Birdemic: Shock and Terror (limited)

In the grand tradition of such timeless classics as Manos: The Hands Of Fate and Troll 2 comes Birdemic: Shock And Terror, a flick that’s so mind-numbingly inept and awful in every conceivable way that it’s mesmerizing. Director James Nguyen has managed to create a frenzied media circus around his film the likes of which Ed Wood could only dream of; between the experience of seeing it in a packed theatre with coat hangers waving around in the air and the antics of its creator, which included driving around Park City during Sundance with a car decked out with fake birds and a BIDEMIC.COM sign to promote a non-festival premiere, Birdemic is pure spectacle.

Although the film garnered massive amount of online attention for its use of GIF-level CGI, it would be a little too easy to justify its overnight cult-labeling on that alone. No, no, Birdemic will be remembered for Nguyen’s inability to do ANYTHING right, such as cultivate a compelling story, elicit any sort of emotion from his actors, and use anything but camera pans and master shots.

Birdemic begins in a hilariously mundane fashion as the opening credits are played over Rod’s (Alan Bagh) drive into town that seems to stretch on FOREVER until he stops at a local diner where he runs into the gorgeous Nathalie (Whitney Moore, the only legit actor in the flick). After a brief exchange consisting of several different stationary angles and audio that cuts in and out (which I’ll attribute to the “Nguyenian” style of the flick), we learn that Rod is a software salesman that’s going through a bit of a dry patch, which just happens to also be what Nguyen used to do – talk about life imitating art, amirite?!?

And as is true with his previous films, a big chunk of Birdemic’s plot – if you can call it that – revolves around his protagonist’s life turning around after he meets the girl of his dreams; not only does he make a big sale at work, but he also gets a sweet deal on solar paneling! Oh yeah, and then there’s the whole “global warming” angle. The couple goes on a double date to see An Inconvenient Truth and clumsily placed news bulletins showing dead birds all over the beach are shown fairly consistently all the way into the second act, bringing the film to a dead halt every time. But that’s part of the charm; Nguyen constantly derails the film with humdrum foolishness like stopping to show EVERY SINGLE booth at a fair the couple walks through, or panning the camera over a large mural in a Chinese restaurant, stopping every few seconds so that the audience can soak it all in and keep up with the cinematography. Although its intent was more than likely to display the beauty of normal day-to-day things we probably take for granted, it does nothing but inspire uncontrollable laughter.

The first forty-five minutes are dull and insipid, but it meets the romantic quota of its “romantic-thriller” moniker. And then, magic happens. Birds that appear to have been ripped right out of a FMV PC game from the mid-nineties fly into action, exploding as they crash into buildings and terrorize the general populace with their low-res appearance. Making a mad dash to their escape vehicle, a group of survivors – including Rod and Nathalie – ward off the attacking eagles with wire coat hangers until they can get on the road, at which point they pull out a spare automatic rifle they just happened to have sitting around and begin eradicating the birds John Rambo style. Eventually, the couple takes a few kids under their wing, they run into a scientist who gives a bloated speech about environmental problems, and see a group of tourists get melted by acidic vulture piss.

Severin’s 1080p Blu-Ray encode can only do so much for the film, which was reportedly produced for around $10,000. The film is plagued with every sort of low-budget problem imaginable and the HD presentation only highlights many of its shortcomings, with the birds being the most glaring one. For what they were working with though, Severin certainly made the most of its low-quality appearance, and it is, without a doubt, the best Birdemic will ever look. Same goes for the 5.1 DTS track, which is clear and strong sounding, but considering the sound constantly cuts in and out due to production issues, it’s not like the film can benefit from and take advantage of lossless audio. Where Severin really does go the extra mile, however, is in the supplemental materials department. Not only do they provide two commentary tracks, but they also feature an episode of Movie Close Up with James Nguyen, whose level of insanity is met in host Bonnie Steiger.

Birdemic really has it all, and easily makes it onto my Top 10 Best Worst Films of All Time list. Nguyen got behind the camera to make a straight-faced homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds, and ended up creating a beautiful disaster that demands to be seen over and over again. Every time I sit down to watch it, I pick up another amazing inconsistency or instance of stupidity, which only makes it better and better.

Special Features

Commentary – The first track includes director James Nguyen, as he chats about his casting choices (apparently Alan Bagh is a great actor because he has a likable personality and not because he can, you know, act), the special effects (he actually thinks they’re not that bad), and, of course, global warming. This guy is a regular Al Gore. Amazingly, Birdemic’s poor sound design is carried over onto the track, as Nguyen cuts in and out constantly. For a software salesman that spent a good chunk of his adult life around technology and has three films under his belt, his recording skills are on par with a 10-year-old podcaster. The second track features actors Bagh and Whitney Moore and moderator Bobby Hacker, who discovered the film at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. Hacker talks a bit about the first time he saw the film, and keeps the discussion going by offering up initial impressions (Clearly though, he’s seen Birdemic almost as many times as Mr. D) while the actors basically ask themselves “Why did we make this film?” repeatedly over the course of the track.

Deleted Scenes (1:56) – Only two snippets are included here, and the latter is better classified as an outtake. The “true” deleted scene has an optional commentary with Nguyen as he waxes poetic about Tony running off and hiding in a cave. Really deep stuff… or something like that.

Birdemic Experience Tour Featurette (12:02) – Starting in February of 2010, Birdemic began its international roadshow with a premiere at LA’s Silent Movie Theatre. This featurette shows clips from various screenings, including introductions and Q&As with Nguyen, as well as red carpet appearances. It’s interesting how different his demeanor is as the tour presses forward, and as he slowly realizes that there’s really nothing “legitimately” good about his flick.

James Nguyen On “Movie Close Up” (27:05) – This is, by far, the best special feature on the disc. The story goes that host Bobbie Steiger found casting calls for Birdemic on various sites and, thinking Nguyen was having trouble casting, invited him onto the show to get the word out. If only people had actually called into this episode of Movie Close Up! He skirts around questioning about Tippi Hedren’s role (which is actually stock footage from one of his other films, Julie And Jack), talks about how great his script is, and goes on and on about environmental issues. She’s equally as insane, though; she basically acts like an easily excited grandparent, as she tells viewers not to be alarmed by the frightening footage and exclaims that “He’s got discs!” while waiving around screener copies for everyone to see.

MOVIEHEAD: The James Nguyen Story Teaser (1:05) – Sadly, there’s only a teaser for what will probably be the most epic documentary since Best Worst Movie. But, since Birdemic II is currently in production, Severin is waiting to include even more shenanigans as the story continues to unfold and I praise them for it.

 

Official Score