Saturday, 3 September 2016

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)

From https://thereservoirblogs.files.
Director: James Nguyen
Screenplay: James Nguyen
Cast: Alan Bagh (as Rod); Whitney Moore (as Nathalie); Adam Sessa (as Ramsey); Catherine Batcha (as Becky); Janae Caster (as Susan); Colton Osborne (as Tony)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #23

After viewing Birdemic, I've proven to myself unequivocally that I hate ironic film viewing. Admittedly it doesn't help I watch like this or Samurai Cop (1991) by myself, films which only really work in group situations preferably with alcohol involved, but the idea of celebrating bad technique in cinema to merely mock it is problematic and regressive. I openly admit to liking technically bad films myself - from the Canadian oddity Things (1989) to Batman & Robin (1998) - but I love them sincerely as much for their fuck-ups as for the few virtues they have, their failures causing me to laugh but also look on with delight as they go into strange, irrational directions either because of the technical decisions or the scripts. Birdemic makes Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) look technically proficient in comparison and just a painful experience to sit through. A modern day bastardisation of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), in which a small US town is invaded by CGI eagles, it felt better to just lift bullet points rather than try to make a cohesive set of paragraphs.

+  The experience was so tedious I immediately rewatched The Birds afterwards. It's completely unfair to compare the two but it's impossible not to when it comes to how long each takes to establish the characters and their drama until, forty plus minutes later or so, the killer birds are on them. Kicking Birdemic when its down is unfair but it's amazing how colourless and lacking the personality the dialogue is. The first forty minutes is meant to be a romantic film but most of the dialogue is about environmental concerns or the most rudimentary of content, short characterless verbs which don't lead to any colourful dialogue from the characters as it should in real life or a film with a fun script. None of the oddness sincerity of something like Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) is there either to help avoid this robotic tone from these empty platitudes and statements making it worse.  

+ As someone who has watched a lot of low budget films, and can get wisdom from those who've watched even more of them such as the No-Budget Nightmare podcast, one of the biggest issues with very low budget films is how they build up an entire feature length beyond the main set pieces to link them together. Dialogue and establishing scenes can be the death of high budget Hollywood films let alone the likes of this, one of the biggest dangers especially in horror or thriller cinema like this when characters merely stand around discussing exposition without rhythm or dynamics to the glue of these scenes to connect set pieces.  Birdemic for a great deal of its length before and after the CGI eagles start to attack filled with non-entity dialogue either meaningful or funny to gain from them. A large part of it is that no one really wants to hear characters talk about their plans to set up a company to develop solar panel technology or be involved in software company meetings, but if you have to do so, it helps (which James Nguyen) doesn't if you actually have some depth to these conversations that sounds like the characters actually have knowledge on any of these subjects, not merely the most vague surface words about the topics.

+ The sound is an irritance in this fact as, while clear and audible, you can heard the transition in background noise from each shot being edited together to the point of irritance. In fact the constant abrupt changes in noise bring out the fact the film uses way to many edits just for single scenes.

+  Because of this, I have sympathy for the actors especially the leads Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore, who seem like likable people but are struggling without hope against dialogue that really doesn't allow them to even show charisma onscreen, turgid to sit through as a main plot threat is about environmental concerns and the lead hero wanting to create pioneering solar panel technology. Considering they are supposed to have a romance, even terrible purple prose romantic dialogue would've been a benefit and more rewarding, the more soppier and melodramatic the better.

+ A huge problem, which has been frequently talked of already, is the film's laborious, empty headed pro-environmental message which has no actual depth to it, merely screaming at the top of its voice about saving the environment but sounding like it's from someone who has no idea how to or what the subject involves. It actually comes off as a best-worst example of how not to do polemic messages in cinema. I'm the stereotypical left wing liberal but I hate follow liberals with probably more vitreous at times than even the extreme right, because of their lackadaisical, hypocritical and howled viewpoints, simplistic and misguided points on subjects that need greater tact to them to improve the world for the better. One of the biggest problems with messages in cinema, barring the fact that I find most social message dramas a waste of time and overrated, is that if the film is bland or terrible no progressive message within it, even if its applaudable morally, is of worth as its been compromised and squandered. This is more significant now as big companies in Hollywood, whether they have any progressive views in mind or are cynically doing so, are becoming more progressive on the surface in their choices, such as the plan to cast an African American actress as Mary Jane Watson in the next Spiderman film, applaudable ideas but in danger of being empty gestures if they're compromised by a bad film around them. Birdemic's the kind of film that'd put people off environmental concerns if they took it seriously at all, probably what some people think all those with environmental concerns actually sound like.

+ When the CGI eagles do actually appear after what feels like two hours already, the result isn't that spectacular still, most of it consisting of actors waving their hands randomly in the air with eagles superimposed afterwards. Even the inclusion of wire coat hangers as a self defensive weapon only lasts for a brief moment, not enough time to stick out, exceptionally disappointing when that was an "iconic" moment in terms of the film's cult reputation.

+ There were some virtues. The music by Andrew Seger at the beginning was surprising in how good it was considering the film's reputation. Unfortunately the film drags so much the music starts to feel the effect and became bland as the plot goes along, but at the beginning its surprising in quality.

+ There's one vaguely funny character, a tree hugger living in the woods, who reminded me of a low rent Woody Harrelson. That Harrelson has played a character like this in Roland Emmerich's turkey 2012 (2009) added humour to this fact.

+ The two children the leads rescue are comically absurd in their behaviour. Most of Birdemic as the CGI eagles attack consists of the characters going shopping and driving on country roads. Despite the dead bodies and people trying to rob them at gunpoint for petrol, there's no sense of trauma especially from the children and the only clear danger is that gasoline now costs $100 dollars because of this freak natural disaster. The children's complaint near the end, when they have to catch fish and fresh seaweed to sustain themselves, that they want a McDonald's instead is one of the most unintentionally spoilt and deluded things ever utter from child characters, so much so that even a viewer with no malice in them would want these fictitious characters to have their eyes poked out by the CGI eagles regardless of their ages.

+ The viewing experience altogether reminded me, while its be a long time since I've seen it, that there's a potentially more rewarding rip-off of The Birds from Mexico that should've had more attention. Beaks: The Movie (1987), directed by Rene Cardona Jr., the same man who made the Video Nasty Night of the Bloody Apes (1969), was far and away more entertaining back when I saw it, having the same delirious tone of the genre films the Italians were making in the eighties (being a co-production) and had, even if through crude effects, real birds involved. The idea of a character being mauled by a savage canary bird, one of many quite inventive scenes in the film, is a hell of a lot more rewarding than the CGI eagles in Birdemic.

In any other circumstance I'd have rated this merely a 2/10, never someone to condemn films any lower in rating, but the context and background behind Birdemic's public popularity and its tone as a movie is so disappointing to me that I have to call it a 1/10 film and one of the worst I've seen in content and attitude. It's not the technical deficiencies that stand out but its general mediocre attitude to being bad filmmaking, not even rewarding for its failure, and not having any of the charm of older infamous films. That there films made with less budget that are better than this, but this one got the cult status, is another reason I hate this film, something like Jennifer Help Us (2014) shot on an iPhone and managing to be a little gem in spite of its few flaws more deserving of this film's popularity. That it feels so pleased with itself in its hollow environmental message and cribbing of Alfred Hitchcock's film is utterly obnoxious and detestable. 


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