In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!
What I Watched in February 2013
- Blazing Saddles (1974), A
- Superman II (1980), A-
- Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
- Groundhog Day (1993), B+
- Dead Alive (1992), B+
- Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007), B
- X-Men (2000), B+
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), A
- Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), B
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), D
- Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995), B+
- Dredd (2012), B+
- A Good Day to Die Hard (2013), B
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013), B+
- Trekkies 2 (2004), C+
- Trek Nation (2010), B+
- Cool As Ice (1991), F; RiffTrax B+
- Live Free or Die Hard (2007), B+
- Branded (2012), C+
- Argo (2012), A
- The Crucible (1996), B-
Writer: James Nguyen
Cast: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Adam Sessa, Catherine Batcha, Patty van Ettinger, Rick Camp, Stephen Gustavson, Danny Webber, Mona Lisa Moon
Plot: Rod (Alan Bagh), a preposterously successful software salesman, meets Natalie (Whitney Moore), an up-and-coming supermodel. As the two begin a romance that was clearly written in the stars, legions of birds lose their minds and begin attacking humanity because Global Warming is a thing. Warning: Do NOT attempt to take this movie seriously. Normally I would also include a spoiler warning, because I will talk some spoilers, but with a movie this remarkably stupid they aren’t so much “spoilers” as they are “cautionary examples.”
Thoughts: For a couple of years now, I’ve heard people talk about Birdemic: Shock and Terror as the new “So Bad It’s Good” movie, placing it in the ranks of dubious classics like The Room, Troll 2, and the über-entry in that category, Plan 9 From Outer Space. There are a lot of bad movies, but for a movie to be so bad as to be entered into that pantheon takes an awful lot of effort on the part of a director that is seriously delusional and, more often than not, a cast that wonders what the hell it got itself into.
My friends. On that front, Birdemic: Shock and Terror totally delivers.
James Nguyen’s 2010 film is the clunkiest, least-effective attempt at a “nature gone bad” horror film I’ve ever seen, so bad in fact that it’s hard to know exactly where to begin. It seems clear that Nguyen was attempting to emulate Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, which also featured a young couple that meets early in the film, a slow build to establish their relationship, and a sudden, inexplicable attack by birds that dominates the rest of the movie. However, Nguyen manages to take these elements that Hitchcock used in a masterpiece and screw every single one of them up.
Let’s take the slow beginning. In Hitchcock’s film, while it does start slowly, he’s building an interesting group of characters with dynamics, personalities and relationships that could probably sustain a movie even without the threat of lunatic bird attack. Not so Nguyen. Rod works as a salesman for a software company that gets sold for a billion dollars (an even billion, that’s right) right after he makes a big sale worth a million dollars (after giving the client a 50 percent discount). Natalie, meanwhile, is informed at the beginning that she’s been selected as the next Victoria’s Secret cover girl, which delights her mother, who also suggests she look into selling real estate as a back-up. However, despite the fact that these two people are remarkably successful, almost every location in the film (including their homes, motel room, and places of business) look like they were shot in the same spare bedroom of a cheap apartment with a half-assed attempt at decoration by changing the bedspread and swapping out laughably small signs the local print shop turned out for a grand total of sixteen dollars.
What’s more, their incredible success never factors into the movie. Rod’s salesmanship? His money? Natalie’s… covergirl-ness? Once the bird attack begins — an unforgivably long 45 minutes into this stinker – all of that immediately becomes irrelevant. Again, this is Nguyen at least trying to emulate Hitchcock. In The Birds, many of the circumstances behind Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor’s meeting (oh geez, Rod Taylor, I just realized what Nguyen was trying to do there) cease to matter, but the character dynamics and the local politics of the small town they’re in are still important. For example, we feel bad when Rod Taylor’s ex-girlfriend dies trying to protect his little sister. When the main characters of Birdemic find their two best friends (who also happen to be dating one another, although somehow neither Rod nor Natalie knew this when they started dating) dead in a car, the audience really only wonders what the point was in including them in the film at all, as they contributed exactly nothing.
The only thing worse than the writing in this movie is the special effects used to create the birds. From the first time we see a bird – a trio of parrots circling a tree – it becomes clear we’re in for a treat. This is the worst, weakest CGI I have ever seen, without qualification. On TV, in theaters, in direct-to-video releases, on viral videos on the internet, every human being who has ever attempted to make pixels on a computer screen move was more successful than the people who made Birdemic. The dancing baby from Ally McBeal looks realistic and lifelike in comparison to the birds in this movie. They attack in droves, sometimes, dive-bombing random targets and exploding, with fire that stays exactly in the spot the bird made contact and burns upwards in a perfect column. They hover – eagles that hover – in front of windows or cars. And whenever one of the characters manages to shoot a bird, that bird they hit inexplicably becomes the only one in the shot, popping in a manner reminiscent of an arcade-style duck hunting game circa 1991.
There is one aspect, however, in which this film clearly and deliberately rejects the framework of Hitchcock’s classic. In his film, as well as in the Daphne Du Maurier story upon which it is based, no explanation for the bird attack is ever given. James Nguyen turns this trope on its ear by giving us multiple, increasingly stupid explanations for what’s happening, all of which boil down to the same thing: Global Warming. That’s right, friends, everything in this movie is because of Global Warming… somehow. One random scientist they meet standing on a bridge blames Global Warming for a pile of dead birds on the ground, but then soundly rejects the notion that it could be responsible for the bird attack. A nutcase in the woods (wearing a wig so terrible that your delusional Uncle Morty suddenly will feel incredibly dapper by comparison) blames Global Warming for the deaths of certain trees and the explosion in the bark beetle population, which… also somehow made the birds go crazy?
Whatever, it’s obviously Global Warming, because we are told the birds are only attacking people in cars or at gas stations. Except for that one time it kills a girl trying to go to the bathroom in the middle of an open field. We also have to accept the danger despite the fact that in the background of almost every single shot we can see a steady, orderly stream of two-directional traffic completely unmolested by birds, because Nguyen couldn’t afford to shut the roads down when filming and couldn’t be arsed to find a road that didn’t have a lot of traffic on it. If that wasn’t enough, the characters sometimes pause the film to talk – in stilted dialogue that would get you kicked out of a high school drama club – about how great their hybrid cars are, including one that gets exactly 100 miles to the gallon, and walk around discussing how great they think the movie An Inconvenient Truth is. (This is an actual line of dialogue: “What a great movie. An Inconvenient Truth.” Because evidently Rod’s idiot friends forgot what movie they all just ostensibly watched together. Incidentally, I’m told that film is the perfect choice for a double-date.)
Everything about this movie is horrible, ill-made, and heavy-handed. By the time it was over I expected to see Al Gore, the Dancing Baby and Alfred Hitchcock (appearing as a Jedi ghost) to release a joint statement emphasizing that James Nguyen in no way speaks for them.
BUT… you gotta watch this.
Don’t watch it the way you usually would, of course. Don’t just turn it on as a bit of entertainment for two hours, because it fails on every possible level. But when you get your friends together with the intent of ripping into a crappy movie, this is a perfect choice. If you get the RiffTrax version of the film, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy give us one of the funniest riffs they’ve done in their decades of mocking terrible movies. Unlike some movies, which could be used for torture, this movie could be an alternative to taking anti-depressants. What’s better – popping a Xanax, or watching Rod and his friends use metal clothes hangers to try to fight off a flock of CGI birds that are hovering mere inches in front of their faces but that they cannot seem to hit, mainly because the computer effects team couldn’t move the birds somewhere that they might actually come close to one of the spastically-flailing hangars?
A while back, the TV show Mythbusters proved that – despite the old adage – it is in fact possible to polish a turd. They could have saved themselves the trouble and just watched Birdemic.
For my take on a much better film that uses some of these tropes, The Birds was one of the “bonus films” available only in the eBook edition of the first Reel to Reel study, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen. It’s now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!