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Birdemic: Shock and Terror



Let’s start with the title: Doesn’t “Birdemic” say it all? What benefit is there to adding “Shock and Terror”? It’s not as if “Birdemic” didn’t sound evil enough; it doesn’t require a qualifier. As you’ll note, however, writer/director/director of photography/producer/executive producer (yes, producer and executive producer, which has to be a cinematic first) James Nguyen is all about giving you more than you need.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your POV), that means seemingly endless footage of his characters walking or driving. Ever been baffled by how characters in movies get from one location to another? This is the film that dares peels back the curtain, showing you every literal step of the process!

Much of “Birdemic”’s appeal can be summed up in the fact that when the movie began and the sound started dropping out after lines of dialogue and between cuts, I thought the disc might be flawed. Not at all; that’s just how it was made, much like ye olde VHS camcorders used to do.

It starts like a love story much like any other Hollywood product: one between two beautiful young white people. This one, however, was shot for $10,000 in an apparent heavily Vietnamese neighborhood in sunny Northern California, starring two people you’ve never seen before and aren’t likely to see again, at least until this year’s promised/threatened sequel, “Birdemic II: The Resurrection 3D.”

Rod (Alan Bagh) is a software salesman who just landed his first million-dollar deal, thus meriting a wicked, over-the-cubicle high-five from his best bro. Nathalie, pronounced Natalie (Whitney Moore), is a fashion model whose shoots are conducted at a one-hour photo place in a strip mall. Rod sees her exit a diner, is smitten by her toothy good looks, and approaches her on the sidewalk. Turns out, they had a class together in high school. Turns out, they’re both kinda dumb.

As romance blossoms, the company Rod works for sells for a billion dollars, so he’s ready to cash out his stock options for an early retirement. But he won’t buy a Ferrari, because he’s happy with his Mustang, “which is a plug-in hybrid,” he notes. “It gets 100 mpg.” Meanwhile, Nathalie scores her first major gig as the next cover girl for Victoria’s Secret. “You sure will look good in those lingerie,” Rod tells her, with Bagh presumably reading straight from Nguyen’s broken-English script. 

Yes, life’s a pretty sweet fruit for our star-crossed couple. What could possibly go wrong?

A birdemic! Thanks to global warming or something like that, the eagles have landed ... and, boy, are they pissed! Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” but shorn of all that pesky suspense, our once-fine feathered friends have turned into enemies, dive-bombing the area — complete with fighter-jet sounds — and slashing the throats of an unsuspecting populace. Even after the initial round of carnage, Californians still insist on driving with their windows down, further granting the birds easy access.

(While we’re on the subject of “The Birds,” that film’s star, Tippi Hendren, appears on a TV screen from footage of one of Nguyen’s previous [!] movies. Male viewers may not spot her, however, as she’s shown while Nathalie emerges from a motel bathroom wearing “those lingerie” for her first lovemaking romp with Rod.)

Rod and Nathalie flee for their lives and fight back, resulting in the funniest “dead bird” effect you’ll ever see. Wholly reminiscent of playing “Duck Hunt” on the Nintendo, the shot never, ever gets old. And believe me, Nguyen shows it as often he can. It’s easily the best effect in the movie, with “best” being highly subjective, as the attacking birds look like they were Colorforms your kid brother stuck on the TV screen.

Somewhere in between, Nguyen finds a valid reason for a secondary character to meet a fate worse than death — and that’s death while defecating outdoors — and stops what forward narrative there is for not one, but two long-winded sermons on the environment. One is delivered by the character of “tree hugger,” who sports an ill-fitting ponytail wig.

I know we’re not quite two months deep into 2011, but I don’t expect to have a more fun viewing experience this year. My only gripe with “Birdemic” is that I didn’t get to experience it — for it is an experience — on the big screen. Despite its litany of technical shortcomings, I salute Severin Films for seeing fit to preserve it on Blu-ray for future generations.

Not only that, but they gave it the full treatment in terms of special features, including two audio commentaries; Nguyen’s on one, not grasping his ineptitude; Moore and Bagh are on the other, often cringing. A featurette on the movie’s American tour is fun, whereas a half-hour public-access show featuring a “Birdemic” victim interviewing Nguyen is painful, partly because my ears believe they share the same audio quality, or lack thereof.

Gotta go — I think I hear a mountain lion. —Rod Lott

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