After seeing Tommy Wiseau’s The Room in Cleveland a few months ago, I was sure it reached a new benchmark in bad film-making. Not only is it steeped in horrendous acting, baffling dialogue, fleeting plot points and characters, awkward sex scenes, a grossly unappealing leading man, and suspiciously plentiful assertions of heterosexuality, but, adding to the humor, Wiseau tried to save face by selling it as a black comedy.
Then, I saw Birdemic: Shock and Terror.
Completed in 2008, but not released until this year, Birdemic is the latest “Best Worst” movie gaining a cult following on the indie theater midnight movie circuit. Generously described (with intentional humor) in the Moviehead press release as a “Romantic Thriller,” the first 40 minutes painstakingly detail the reunion of high school classmates who start dating. It almost like watching one of those movies from high school language lab that teach conversational French. And it’s followed by another 40 minutes painstakingly detailing the new young couple’s mostly pointless attempts to escape a sudden attack by a mob of crazy ass birds. And there’s still the 10 minute finale where the heroes collect to watch the birds, which seem stuck in mid-air.
And all while pushing a serious political agenda!
Brazenly submitted for the Sundance Film Festival in 2009 (although let’s face it, they do show a fair amount pretentious shit there), it was not surprisingly rejected. Aside from trying to make a movie out of two halves of a half-developed whole, coupled with the usual flaws that make these movies so comical (bad acting, loose logic, and bizarre dialogue, etc.), Birdemic demonstrates a new level of technical ignorance. Reaction and establishing shots are done to death. Scenes filmed in noisy locations muffle conversations several times. Shots that look like the mistaken start of a dream sequence. My particular favorite was the stock photo in the news report about melting glaciers in the Arctic that was obscured by the Ghetty Images watermark. But above all else, Birdemic takes the cake for worst special effects which are truly so awful, they’ll leave you speechless. And how do you create an atmosphere of destruction and avionic terror on a mere budget of $10 grand? Why, animated GIFs! Except, most of the time, it seems as though the flying terrors are both harmless and impervious to threat, as though all people needed to do was settle for the fact that birds will now occasionally hover above them because they’re angry about pollution.
Hey, it’s a small price to pay for messing up the environment!
The trailer alone seems like something shot by a bunch of college kids to post to YouTube for a laugh. And then there’s the shitty promotional website.
Um… This is all a joke, right?
I’m still not entirely convinced that it wasn’t a ploy to cash in on the latest urban-indie trend where all those silly kids (myself included) flock (take notice of my pun!) to independent theaters on a weekend, forking over just as much money as you’d pay for a megaplex feature to watch some really god awful, low budget movie. Serve a few beers and it’s the new nightlife niche. For the crafty impostor, the formula is pretty simple: scrap budgets, lowered standards, and a public conviction (sincere or not) that the final product is indeed a legitimate masterpiece. Generate a little buzz among the hipsters and look at all the press you can get just for that! That kind of thing could net a couple bucks and, in some cases, establish your place among cult legends.
But, assuming Birdemic really is unintentionally awful, then it gives the impression that it’s the work of a very young, naive filmmaker who, lacking any skill, created this horrible no-budget ($10 grand) horror film as a platform for passionate fist-shaking at Man’s self-destructive ways. Mainly, environmental abuse. As pollution continues to exacerbate global warming, Mother Nature — and more specifically, a bunch of pissed off eagles and sea gulls — decide to speed up evolution and retaliate against the careless humans. Aside from scratching their eyes out, burning them with toxic poop, and periodically blowing shit up, they also extend their negative reinforcement to the audience, deafening them with repeated, high pitched squawking.
Naturally, all of this is supposed to drive home a very important message…
Global Warming totally sucks, y’all!
The girl at the counter who sold me my beer before the movie mentioned that she had seen Birdemic before, and guessed that it was made by someone who’s first language was not English. Those kind of linguistic and cultural barriers have yielded a few of the more well-known Best Worst movies. In fact, in Best Worst Movie, Michael Stephenson’s documentary on the cult popularity of Troll 2, the American cast frequently remark about the frustration and confusion in working with an Italian film crew that didn’t speak much English, and an Italian director who demanded that they stick to the script as written, despite plenty of awkward translation and amusing assumptions about Middle America’s lifestyle. Although, it’s true… teenage girls really were into sideways ponytails and weightlifting in the 80s.
Just taking into account the Birdemic tagline, “Why Did the Eagles Attacked?” the lost-in-translation theory seems entirely plausible.
Then I watched interviews with the man behind the movie: writer/director James Nguyen. He is neither young nor appears to struggle with the English language. While it’s frequently noted that he and his family fled their war-ravaged hometown of Da Nang (Vietnam) in the mid-70s, he made a career as a software salesman in Silicon Valley.
So, what’s the deal?
Actually, Nguyen, who not surprisingly has no formal training in film-making, is an ardent admirer of Alfred Hitchcock, and it shows. A lot. His movies (yes, he’s made others and yes, the hero is always a software geek) don’t just pay homage to the Master of Suspense, they’re basically collages of scenes and narratives pulled from Hitchcock’s movies. Obviously, Birdemic is a knock-off of The Birds. The opening credits were ripped from Psycho. The casting of Alan Bagh as Our Hero: Rod, a burly brunette, and his bubbly blond Nathalie (Whitney Moore) follows Hitchcock’s M.O. Even actress Tippi Hedren, who played the lead in The Birds (she’s also Melanie Griffith’s mom), is given co-star credits here, even though she only appears in archive footage from Nguyen’s first film, Julie and Jack (which in turn knocked off Vertigo).
So Nguyen’s movie are the dirt poor man’s Hitchcock? That’s perfect in this economy!
But Hitchcock isn’t the only source of inspiration. If the chunks of textbook explanations of Global Warming and bleeding-heart-liberal styled moments in Birdemic seem vaguely familiar, that’s because they’re Nguyen’s synthesis of Al Gore’s activist documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (which the young couples in the Birdemic even choose to see on a double date, and not because they’d already seen everything else playing at that theater). Somehow, Nguyen seems to cite Apocalypse Now as a third source of inspiration, but the parallels he describes may be filed under WTF and have nothing to do with those overt Give Peace a Chance slogans Whitney’s friend surrounds herself with.
Dude, you’re ruining it for the people who are serious about these things!
So he’s just a regular guy who made a bad movie? Well, hmpf! Actually, an IMDB commentator may have a better theory. While Nguyen may have set out to make serious film, at some point he may have realized how terrible it really was, but could still find success among young cult fans. Although it was rejected at Sundance, it was subsequently “discovered” by Troma Films associate Evan Husney who took Birdemic to distributor Severin Films.
The rest is craptastic cinema history!
As the movie — in painfully slow speed — ended, and the heroes stood on the beach looking out at two groups of birds that appeared stuck on the screen for at least five minutes, Dan joked that it must mean that they’re leaving it open for a sequel. To our surprise, there really is a sequel! Birdemic: The Resurrection is due for release in 2011. I’ve read that it will supposedly have a budget of $20 million and be shot for 3-D screenings. How much of that is just lofty ambition, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll tackle the BP Oil Spill!!
I’m not sure Birdemic takes the cake as the Best of the Worst, intentional or not. The Room at least still holds as one of the most uncomfortable.
Filed under: after the 90s, comedy, commentary, cult flicks and obscure picks, indie, monsters and motherships | Tagged: alan bagh, apocalypse now, best worst movie, birdemic, e street cinema, hitchcock, inconvenient truth, James Nguyen, moviehead, resurrection, Sequel, severin, Severin Films, Shock and Terror, the birds, the room, tippi hedren, tommy, trailer, troll 2, troma, whitney moore, wiseau |