Under the Radar: ‘Birdemic’

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Birdemic: Shock and TerrorUnder normal circumstances, the films I recommend as part of Under the Radar are lesser-known gems of extraordinary quality. It would seem counterproductive to and the antithesis of Under the Radar to recommend a terrible film with which you may not be familiar, right? The subject of today’s article is a film I urge everyone to see, but not necessarily because it compels the mastery of filmmaking to new heights or registers highly on any criterion of critical estimation. The film is Birdemic: Shock and Terror, and it is unlike anything you have seen before.

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is the quaint, familiar story of boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-fall-in-love, boy-and-girl-are-attacked-by-birds. The movie is ostensibly an omen about the dangers of global warming and how it will eventually cause our feathered friends to rise up against up with a combination of razor-sharp talons, acid vomit, and tendency toward kamikaze attacks. It’s very similar to The Birds…if Hitchcock suffered a massive blow to the head just before principal photography.

Birdemic is a film that begs to be seen, if only to fully grasp just how inept it is. The production design is similar to the vacation videos your dad insisted on making every time your family ventured into the outdoors; replete with identical sound quality. The “actors” strike me as being inexperienced not only in front of a camera, but also in the subtle art of executing a believable interaction with another human being. The plot is somewhere in the neighborhood of ill advised to impossibly indecipherable. The effects of the terrifying birds themselves leave a bit to be desired, often consisting of painfully transparent CGI clip art hovering in front of the actors while making sounds that will have your eardrums bleeding. But hey, at least they have inexplicably adapted the ability to explode at will, right? Throughout all of this, you will be laughing too hard and enjoying yourself too thoroughly to hate the film.

It’s no secret that I maintain an unhealthy love affair with bad movies, and therefore you may be hesitant to heed my endorsement of Birdemic. Indeed Hollywood has been turning out bad movies for so long that it has become kitsch of late to intentionally manufacture that recognizable, less-than-auteur quality; Grindhouse and its bastard offspring Machete are prime examples. And then of course there’s the slew of absolute swill slapped together for the multiplexes and the pursuit of empty returns. So what’s the difference between Birdemic and a bad movie for which you shell out ten bucks only to leave feeling cheated? In a word, the difference is sincerity. Birdemic is not striving for a desperate sense of ironic appreciation. It is a movie made by a man who loves films so wholeheartedly that he threw himself headfirst into an artform he knew absolutely nothing about.

Birdemic: Shock and TerrorJames Nguyen bears a striking resemblance to Ed Wood; not a physical resemblance but one of identical passion and earnestness. What makes him more like Ed Wood than any other bad director working today is he has no concept of why his movie is bad. Unlike someone like Uwe Boll, who has garnered comparisons to the legendary 50s schlock wizard himself, Nguyen is not living in denial angrily challenging his detractors to pugilistic displays of narcissism. One need only watch five minutes of interview footage with Nguyen on Severin Films better-than-deserved Blu-ray release of Birdemic to understand the wide-eyed innocence he possesses and how unfathomably proud he is of the film. It’s the kind of infectious sincerity that has made the likes of Plan 9 from Outer Space and Troll 2 so endearing. This would also explain why Birdemic was such an instant phenomenon during its limited theatrical run.

I urge you to pick up a copy of this film, gather your least pretentious cinephile compatriots and, over many, many beers, take in all the absurd majesty that is Birdemic: Shock and Terror. If nothing else, it is impossible to develop a truly accurate scale for judging the quality of cinema without establishing the anchors on each side. It will further your appreciation for great films to see one that exists on the polar opposite side of the spectrum. And with the 3D sequel rumored to be on the way, you will not want to be unfamiliar with the epic story. It was impossible for me to write that sentence with a straight face.