Birdemic: Shock and Terror
Written by James Nguyen
Directed by James Nguyen
You have to respect an artist with a vision. Sometimes they make Dances With Wolves or The Passion of the Christ and are rewarded critically and commercially for their risky works of passion. Other times you get James Nguyen’s notorious 2008 film Birdemic. The film is an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Al Gore’s Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Shot largely on weekends and funded completely by Nguyen’s day job as a software salesman in Silicon Valley, the film is actually quite magical for bad movie fans due to the tonal shift midway through. It’s kind of like two awesomely bad movies for the price of one!
The first half of the film focuses on the wooing of Victoria Secret model Nathalie (Whitney Moore) by leading man Rod (Alan Bagh) who is a successful software salesman in Silicon Valley (now where have I heard that before?). This part of the film is very slowly paced and saved only by the absolutely wretched acting of Alan Bagh and the fascinating poor quality of the film.
It’s well known that bad acting and poorly received low-budget films pretty much go hand and hand. However Alan Bagh has taken inept acting and turned it up to eleven. It is simply fascinating watching the camera cut to him with that bored/distracted look you usually only see on an eight year-old playing left field, wishing he was back home playing X-Box. It’s even better when Bagh suddenly jumps “into character”, says his line, then immediately reverts to his previous dopey, dreamy state. Honestly, you can tell the exact moment when the director points to him and says “and now your line Alan”. Perhaps this is something better blamed on post editing but Bagh spends the entire film earning his place in all-time worst performances all on his own.
The editing and overall quality of the film is pretty epic. Let’s look past the amateur framing of the camera and also the terrible editing, which uses shots that contain mistakes and line flubs, and focus instead on the sound. The audio of this movie cuts in and out. There are scenes where a background score or natural sound (running water, birds cawing, etc.) is heard during one shot and then disappears as it cuts to a different angle shot of the same scene…only to return when we cut back to the original. It’s some real bush league stuff that most audience members will find distracting and others will find hilarious.
The poor audio, bad framing and numerous extended shots of people entering their cars, pulling into traffic, parking and then exiting their vehicle make the first half hour or so tough to get through. There is one bright light though and that’s Whitney Moore. Whitney plays Nathalie and the shock from Birdemic‘s title might be referring to the shock of just how the heck did Nguyen land her. Aside from having easily the best acting performance in the film, though that’s not saying much, she is also stunningly easy on the eyes. Seriously if she’s not a ten than she’s a solid nine. It’s hard to understand why it took Nguyen over 40 minutes to get her in her underwear.
By the midpoint of the film most audience members will have stopped asking “when are the birds showing up?” and have likely begun asking themselves “Is this even the right movie?”. Well after we finally get to see Rod score big with Nathalie the birdemic begins.
This is the highlight of the film. Some criticize Hitchcock’s The Birds for the “unrealistic” bird effects. Guaranteed they’ve never seen anything like the effects in Birdemic. CGI birds dive bomb the landscape, exploding on impact of course, and attack by remaining suspended in the air, defying all know laws of physics. Characters flail and shoot at these almost still images of birds, often not even in the correct direction. This remarkably low quality effects work is handily the biggest reason for Birdemic‘s notoriety and is truely something that must be seen to be believed. It puts CGI effects back to the pre-Tron era.
There are lots of contenders here for best-worst scene. In an early one Rod gives a customer a 50% discount, reducing the sale price from two million to one million. I’m fairly certain Michael Scott almost got fired on The Office for something similar to that. There’s another one later where the lead characters meet an old guy on a bridge (literally by Rob saying “Hey look! There’s an old guy on a bridge”) who reveals that the entire Birdemic was caused by mankind and global warming. However the winner has to be Damien Carter performing his criminally underrated single “Just Hanging Out (With My Family)”.
I don’t know if Nguyen put adds out saying Wanted: Black Singer Who Sounds/Dances Like White Singer; or if he’s just good friends with Carter. No matter how the two united their collaboration birthed one of the films biggest “what in heck’s name am I watching?” moments as the two leads have a quiet dinner alone in a corner Celtic restaurant then all of a sudden break-out into a two-minute song and dance number. The best part is how catchy and repetitive that damn song is. Just give in and sing along.
When you sum it all up Birdemic was a winner practically out of the gate and will probably live a long healthy life in bad movie lore. Nguyen’s likely going to ruin the magic with the forthcoming sequel Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, but who knows maybe fans are about to get the bad movie equivalent of The Godfather Saga.