Gary Couzens has reviewed Namu the Killer Whale, an old-fashioned family film from 1966 given a basic back-catalogue release in Region 2 from MGM.
”Live and let live, let Nature be your teacher
Respect the life of your fellow creature
Live and let live, whatever you do
And always remember the killer whale, Namu.”
That’s the chorus of “The Ballad of Namu, the Killer Whale” which Tom Grazer sings over the opening credits. Leaving aside the fact that the title of this film doesn’t scan very well (stress the second syllable of “Namu”), this song sums up this film. And if we hadn’t got the message already, the film proper begins with grainy stock footage of undersea creatures with a narration about how the sea is the mother of life on this planet.
This is an Ivan Tors production from the middle of a decade where the Hungarian-born producer found a profitable family film formula: children + animals = box office. In cinemas he brought you the original 1963 Flipper and Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion amongst others. Those of us of a certain age will also remember his TV productions: Daktari and the small-screen spin-off of Flipper. The formula works to this day – though the environmental messages are usually more adroitly conveyed nowadays – but Tors’s old-school family films do show their age somewhat.
Hank Donner (Robert Lansing), a marine biologist, is studying a killer whale that has strayed close to an isolated fishing village in Washington State. The villagers want to kill the whale, soon nicknamed Namu, but Hank with the help of Lisa (Robin Mattson), the young daughter of local shopkeeper Kate (Lee Meriwether), tries to persuade them that Namu is indeed an intelligent creature that means no-one any harm.
It’s a big leap from The Wild One to this, but director Laszlo Benedek does a competent job and the cast act with appropriate conviction. It’s certainly watchable for an hour and a half, but the problem with this film nowadays is that its target audience is the one least likely to make allowances for age and differing film styles of filmmaking. If you want a youngster-bonds-with-whale movie, then you have Free Willy, which children are more likely to find slicker, more contemporary and generally more entertaining – well, the first of the series at least. Sometimes they do make them like they used to, and sometimes they improve on the older model. For that reason I’m not sure what audience Namu the Killer Whale will have – as something that turns up on television maybe, but not as a keeper on DVD. Sadly, Namu died shortly after the film was made – by drowning.
Namu the Killer Whale is transferred to DVD in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced. Viewed on a PC monitor, there are thin black bars on all four sides. The film has a more muted look than many other films of its vintage, and there’s certainly some grain to be seen, but it’s quite acceptable. Colour strength and sharpness do vary slightly from shot to shot, which may have something to do with the original materials fading a little.
The soundtrack is mono, as you’d expect from a mid-60s film. It’s an entirely serviceable track, with dialogue, music and sound effects well balanced. As often with MGM there are four dubbed alternatives to the original English and a range of subtitle options.
As this is a MGM back-catalogue release, you can guess the rest: a symbol-only menu, sixteen chapter stops, region encoding for 2 and 4, and no extras at all. Apart from a trailer, I’m not sure what extras a film like this could have, given that most of the principal cast and crew are dead.
There may be nostalgic adults out there with an affection for this film, but there are better movies around for kids. Namu the Killer Whale is a perfectly decent family movie that simply hasn’t stood the test of time, and is doubly unfortunate to have been made obsolescent by a more recent film with a similar premise. One to rent or buy cheaply in a sale.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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