Bad movie crashes and burns: Birdemic

By: Ashley Rivas

Bad Movie #1: Birdemic

A movie about killer birds! What an original concept. I’m about 99% confident that one hasn’t been made. It’s a market that clearly hasn’t been tapped, and I feel confident that Birdemic: Shock and Terror is an excellent representative of the potential of the genre.

Oh, wait. That’s all stupid bullshit, and Birdemic is an attempt to capitalize on whatever kind of residual terror was leftover by Hitchcock’s The Birds. But that might be giving it too much credit.


The History

Birdemic is sitting at a comfortable #8 on the IMDB bottom 100 chart, with a ranking of 1.8/10. For the record, this movie was premiered by Tim and Eric in February 2010, with a very quick theatrical run. If that doesn’t indicate the kind of attention it was getting, let’s go deeper into the rabbit hole writer/director James Nguyen created for himself.

Nguyen was a software salesman, but he let go of his dreams of filmmaking. This seems to be an epidemic among bright-eyed, bushy-tailed wannabe filmmakers (cough! Tommy Wiseau, and we will explore this later). He financed his own small films, and Birdemic, his third opus, flopped. He took to the streets in a sketch van with a stuffed bird on top, handed out fliers, and somehow, this madness translated into notoriety. Was it the kind he wanted? Apparently. He was on the cover of the New York Times, and he gobbled it all up. It was symptomatic of Troll 2, in a way. The notoriety was there, but it wasn’t the kind he had intended. And it didn’t matter. Birdemic had cemented itself as a cult classic “bad movie,” landing itself here, on my laptop, on this dark day of cinema. As an aside, please check out this background short on the history of Birdemic, from a writer for Vice who toured with Nguyen during the promotion of the film. It’s deluded and fantastic.

Before I crack open the can of analysis, let’s take a brief look at what I expected going into this. And my goodness, expectations were high. I had already seen the Birdemic review videos from I Hate Everything and Jontron, who both enjoyed (reveled in, even) the awfulness of this film. I love bad movies; I thrive on them, so I hoped this would be an alternative to The Room during bad movie parties. I expected crap acting, horrific production quality, and no plot to speak of.

It delivered. And it hurt.


Watching this steaming pile of waste

My knee jerk reaction is that I did not enjoy this movie the way I thought I would. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, because I did; it’s got some kind of inherent charm that I’ll discuss later, mostly because there isn’t a lot to talk about there. It’s a true example of a bad movie both in terms of execution and content, but what hurts me the most are the missed opportunities and the persistent, violent use of filler.

To recap the plot: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. All our main characters (and I seriously can’t remember their names) were doing really well in the beginning of the film. The male protagonist, who I will call Liquid Metal Terminator because of his inability to emote, just sold his shares in some company to some other company. Then he got a big investment in his green company, I guess? Maybe?

The female lead, who I will call Natalie because I think that was actually her name, is a model who gets her photos shot at a local Walgreens. She just got a gig with Victoria’s Secret. Yay.

So everyone is great, and before all of that is even established, LMT stalks Natalie and asks her on a date. They go on a date. They go on another date. They have sex, I think? The camera panned to some very erotic toe twisting, that was for sure. I had to look away.

By the time all this complicated and gripping human drama has played out, you’re about 45 to 50 minutes into the movie. With a 1 hour and 45 minute runtime, that’s excessive. That’s stupid. It’s boring. They’re horrible actors, there’s no sense that anything wrong is about to happen, and you’re being painfully brained with some vague sense that this film may have an environmental message.

The initial bird attack is the single best part of the film, I’ll be honest. The camera focuses on long, silent establishing shots of random places that may have popped up briefly before. Lots didn’t, and this was the first time we saw them….right before they were brutalized by static, CGI eagles. Condors popped up later. Parrots were seen first, but apparently weren’t driven by bloodlust.  The birds quite literally dive bomb the buildings and explode on impact. This is violence, true violence, and it’s delightful.

I can summarize the rest of the movie easily. They drive around, some people die because CGI birds cut their strange necks, and then the birds fly away. Doves save the humans, and all is well.

Are you moved? I’m not. Some of this may sound hilariously bad, but I can’t bring myself to pour more emotion onto my keyboard. This movie was dry, painfully so, and it takes so much work to get to the good stuff that you’re left wondering whether it was worth it.


The Problems

The biggest problem with the movie is simply that it was boring. Spending so much time on nothingness hurts your brain and makes you feel like you’re performing a chore or being lobotomized instead of enjoying something inherently silly. Filler of cars driving fills up 93.476% of the movie (I should double-check the math on that, but I’m confident that I’m not far off).

Sure, the movie throws you a bone or two with absolutely nightmarish production quality, and that’s delightful. But the movie hurts, and the fun is few and far between. The production is basically some far-fetched dream that the director never really knew how to put into words. The sound changes multiple times each scene, and the attempt to use strange camera angles and panning shots that make no sense is jarring. But the director is enthusiastic about it, and that comes across loud and clear.

The acting is a disaster, but again, I can tell that there’s effort. Almost. The male lead, who I am convinced is an android, has not yet learned how to emulate humanity. He lacks an emotion chip. How he took home a check for his participation in this is beyond me, and how he was requested for a second film is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the universe.

Other than those major complaints, one of the more baffling subjects of the film was the attempt to insert an environmental message into the movie. It’s a bit like Jaws; you know the shark is there, and you’re sure it’s definitely a shark, but it doesn’t really start to show up until the latter half of the movie. The environmentalism is a slow trickle. A newscaster kind of delivers some strange warning about polar bears. LMT talks about the 100 MPG Mustang Hybrid he drives (???), which is followed by a meeting where a random scientist man on the bridge (TROPE ALERT! RANDOM SCIENTIST MAN!) informs the desperately concerned cast that global warming may have upset the birds. Later, an equally random hippie in the woods (cool because he looks like Woody Harrelson, but not a trope) talks to the group about the trees and how important they are. Later, that beautiful forest burns down. For no reason. But only after the Harrelson hippie informs the group that humans are the real bad guys. And you know what? After watching this, I agree.


The Other Reviews

birdemic-chart

Jontron’s Review:

Jontron focuses, adamantly, on the horrific acting of the male lead and the excessive filler. He notes, similarly to my own nickname, that the male actor is more akin to a Terminator than an actual human being. The sound quality doesn’t skip his scrutiny, either.

He admits that he feels it’s up to par with other bad movies, though. It’s got “some charm”, and is somehow moderately loveable. Perhaps this charm is something that I can also agree with, but it’s incredibly challenging for me to look past the other glaring, eye melting, face burning, sun scalding issues. “Earnest” is his assumption of what a critic would call it. It did, admittedly, try hard.

IHE:

I Hate Everything reviewed this in a similar fashion to me, by picking it off the IMDB bottom 100. He says that it’s an excellent example of how “not to make a movie”, and that it’s inherently “broken”. He focuses aggressively on nitpicking the movie in a more film buff sense than Jontron.

He ultimately thinks that it’s awful, and that he hates it adamantly, but that it “isn’t the worst of the worst”. He notes that there’s something unique and mesmerizing about how pitiful it is. He doesn’t care enough about it to put it out of its misery, and got a few laughs. I feel like this is more aligned with how I felt about the movie. It made me suffer, and I did not enjoy most of it, but when I did laugh, it was good. In those few moments, we were a tremendous couple, Birdemic and I. But the good times weren’t worth the bad.


My Ranking

Here we go, time for the number crunching. Let’s break it down with my score first, my wonderful arbitrary score based on how much I enjoyed, or did not enjoy, this movie. And the lovely Birdemic gets a…

4/10.

birdemic-rating

Ultimately, the movie disappointed me by not taking more chances by being more out there. I get that it had no money, I get that it was expensive to hire actual mutant bird actors, but that budget should’ve gone to them, not LMT. It should’ve done more to push itself into bad movie territory because of the plot, or the characters. Instead, it’s bad purely because it couldn’t be made by someone more competent, and while that’s awesome, it only works in conjunction with a bizarre plot. By itself, it just makes you tired. It had some heart, but not enough to push it past mediocrity for me. And mediocrity is offensive when it comes to a bad movie. If the movie left you with no actual impression, it failed. It should drive you into complete madness, like a 1 to 3 rating, or into euphoria, like a 7 to 10. But this is meh. This is nothingness. It failed to move me in either direction, and that is the greatest possible crime a self-proclaimed bad movie can make.

So now, more math! Let’s calculate our Lack of Effort Points (formerly known as Effort Points, but I changed the name because it seemed more appropriate) for this gem.

My score: 4/10
IMDB: 1.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 2.7/10
Rotten Tomatoes Audience: 1.8/5 or 3.6/10
Average goodness: 3.01/10, so therefore average badness: 6.99/10

The budget for this was, according to RT, “low”. According to IMDB, the estimated budget was $10,000. Unfortunately, this makes it a little out of skew on our existing million-dollar badness scale, so after some consideration, we’ll keep the scale in the ten thousands and adjust higher budgeted movies as necessary when we get to them (which, judging by the list, isn’t going to happen soon).

So, the ultimate amount of Lack Of Effort Points for Birdemic: [(.699)*10,000] / 100 = 69.9. Higher than our original rating for Star Wars, and somehow still not as abysmally lazy as Transformers 2. That seems about right (remember, higher is worse on this scale,).


To the next one!

I’ve perused the list of bad on the IMDB lowest rated movies, and somehow, the spirit of the holidays has captured a notorious Grinch like me. So I’ve decided to tackle Saving Christmas, the hyper-Christian opus of Kirk Cameron. Eggnog laced with whatever high intensity alcohol I can find will be prescribed. Suggestions are welcome.

About The Author

I'm a big ol' nerd, and I want to effuse that nerdiness for the rest of my life. I spend as much time as I can drawing and playing video games, and I've taken that to the career level now since I'm back in school to be a game designer. I'm the mom to three puppies and a fat kitty, and the wife to a fellow nerd.

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