BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION
Color, 2013, 82 mins. 29 secs.
Directed by James Nguyen
Starring Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Thomas Favaloro, Chelsea Turnbo
Intervision (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), MVD (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
BIRDEMIC 3: SEA EAGLE
Color, 2022, 83 mins. 15 secs.
Directed by James Nguyen
Starring Ryan Lord, Julia Culbert, Alan Bagh, Victorya Brandart
Intervision< (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (2.00:1) (16:9)
In 2010, the micro-budget nature attack film Birdemic: Shock and Terror somehow rode the wave from obscure film festival castoff to hip movie sensation almost immediately thanks to (a) an unforgettable teaser trailer that debuted at the beginning of the year, and (b) incredibly canny promotion from Severin Films, who picked the film up and successfully sold it roadshow-style as a midnight feature par excellence. Mainstream press including Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times quickly jumped on the bandwagon, and screenings featured some wonderful William Castle-style gimmicks; at the premiere Los Angeles screening, for example, audiences could enjoy a chicken food truck parked alongside the admission line, and audiences were attacked by fake vultures on elastic strings at the end of the film. So, how does the actual movie stack up? It's terrible, of course, and features production values that would make most Sub Rosa and Asylum releases look like Michael Bay productions by comparison. What sets it apart from the pack is its utter, serious sincerity in its environmentalist message, which is delivered so clumsily every few minutes it defies description. Imagine An Inconvenient Truth and Rats: Nights of Terror smashed together by some junior high schoolers with an HD camera, and you might start to get the idea.
The first 45 minutes or so of Birdemic charts the road to potential romance for software salesman Rod (Bagh), who lands a "million dollar deal" at work, and Nathalie (Moore), a lingerie model still dependent on her mother. Together they wander around a lot, dance in an empty restaurant to an unforgettable R&B live number, and converse with their equally colorless coworkers and friends, who lounge around to faux-John Lennon Muzak under posters calling for world peace. To celebrate Rod's sudden wealth, he and Nathalie decide to head up the coast to Half Moon Bay for the local pumpkin festival, where the narrative slows down from a crawl to almost going in reverse. Then... the birds attack. All at once. Armed only with coat hangers, our heroes and other intrepid survivors try to navigate their way out of town as vultures and occasional dive-bombing eagles turn the populace into bloody mincemeat by, err, floating around in stationary positions thanks to the amateur CGI effects. Will they get out to the beach before the birdemic claims them all?
Complete with child actors who appear and disappear from the story on a whim, atrocious sound recording directly off the consumer camera microphone, and bizarre non-editing that must be experienced to be believed, Birdemic is a film that could only have been made by someone with utter conviction in his vision. Director James Nguyen definitely doesn't seem to be in on the joke in the commentary he recorded for the film, though his subsequent PR appearances and announced plans for a sequel in 3-D indicate he might be too self-aware now for lightning to strike twice. None of the actors appear to have received any direction apart from waving coat hangers at empty space and firing fake guns in random directions, but there's a certain naive charm about Bagh and Moore that indicates they could actually be fun to watch in a film that actually needed real actors. It's definitely not a film for all tastes (and certainly not something you'd want to watch by yourself), but with a group of like-minded friends and lots of alcohol, this is a homemade achievement unlike any other.
Following hot on the heels of its grassroots release, Birdemic came to Blu-ray and DVD from Severin in a ridiculously stuffed package that answers almost any question you could have about this avian oddity. Along with the aforementioned Nguyen audio commentary (which covers everything from the ratty effects to the film's creation on a home computer), you also get a second commentary with the likable Bagh and Moore who talk with a bit more rationality about how they were brought on to the film, their feelings of pride in having their first starring roles in the can and actually released to the public, and the absurd shooting nature of the action scenes. Also included are two wholly dispensable deleted scenes ("The Cave," 1m38s, and an 18s one with a censored title that only makes sense when you watch it) with optional commentary, a "Birdemic Experience Tour" featurette (12m2s) about the film's traveling promotional stunts, an appearance by Nguyen on San Francisco's local Movie Close Up show (27m5s) that plays a lot like an SNL sketch, three trailers(!), an EPK (2m35s), and a promo for Moviehead: The James Nguyen Story. As for the film itself, well, it is what it is; the videography is soft, often out of focus, and plagued with blurring colors and video noise, not to mention a sound mix whose dual presentations in DTS and two-channel stereo still sounds like it was captured on an '80s tape recorder.
Of course it was only a matter of time before a sequel materialized, and sure enough Birdemic 2: The Resurrection popped up in 2013 -- essentially following the same formula, this time set in Hollywood. Nguyen was definitely in on the joke this time and included a number of self-aware jabs in this intended "bad" film, which tends to sap away a lot of the bizarre appeal of the original. Once again the first 45 minutes are devoted to character development and romantic material a la the Hitchcock model before the birds attack, this time with Bagh's Rod and Moore's Nathalie sharing time with a new couple, movie director Bill (Favaloro) and waitress turned acting discovery Gloria (Turnbo). Bill's latest project, Sunset Dreams, is supposed to be his big comeback after his onetime Sundance glory, and he needs a million bucks from Rod as long as Nathalie and his adopted son become part of the cast. Meanwhile Mother Earth is still ticked off, this time dumping acid rain on California that will eventually cause an onslaught of killer birds and zombies to rise up around Miracle Mile.
Complete with more birds (including an attack inside a movie set), more high fives, and a lot more song performances, Birdemic 2 ups the ante with loads and loads of padding involving location shooting all over L.A. (clearly done without permits and occasionally resorting to blurring out logos and video clips). There's even less of an actual plot than the prior film, with everything just kind of stopping once it's gotten to feature length and once again asking us to think about all the havoc we're wreaking on the environment. Never really getting the same kind of fan following or lively theatrical play as the prior film, this one hit streaming from distributor Chill and then went to DVD in 2013. The Blu-ray from Severin's Intervision sublabel appeared in 2023 as part of the Wings of Disaster: The Birdemic Trilogy set, and again it features DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 English tracks with optional English SDH subtitles. The sound quality here is significantly better with a pretty competent surround mix, and visually it's (relatively) better as well. You get no less than three separate commentaries this time: a solo one with Nguyen, a group one with Bagh, Favaloro, and producer Jeff Gross ("James intended this to be an homage not just to Hitchcock but to Billy Wilder"), and a duo one with Moore and cinematographer Bobby Hacker. All of them are entertaining listens for various reasons. Also included is a batch of cast and crew interviews (19m30s) with Favaloro, Bagh, Gross, and Nguyen (who stands up and leaves after each soundbite) talking about the advantages of shooting with an actual budget and crew this time around as well as the logistics of shooting on L.A. locations including a set at Universal. Also included are a short behind the scenes (4m46s) with Nguyen yelling at Hacker, plus the trailer.
After years of aborted attempts to get a third film to take flight including a disastrous fundraising campaign, Nguyen finally cemented as status as the "master of the romantic thriller" with the third and final installment, 2022's Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle. Here the environmental message gets even more aggressive than before as gerontologist Evan (Lord) has a meet cute at the beach in Santa Cruz with environmental scientist Kim (Culbert), who's taking water samples to find out why sea lions are getting cancer. Cue the very long environmental instructional video watching and romantic courtship complete with lots of talk about global warming, human aging, electric cars, and the pair's shared love of Vertigo. Naturally they decide to take in some of the locations of Hitchcock's classic, complete with lots of hand holding and, of course, a musical detour. After an hour, the titular sea eagles finally show up and attack, sending our couple scrambling to the woods where they find help from Rod (Bagh, now bearded) and his girlfriend Kate (Brandart).
Somehow this entry is the most technically ragged of them all, complete with baffling extreme color timing shifts between shots, flubbed lines, and extreme volume jumps between lines of dialogue. Whether that's a good or bad thing will depend on what you expect to get here, but it's undeniably a Nguyen experience all the way. This time he's gone back to the source with Severin's David Gregory and Carl Daft on as executive producers, and the Blu-ray release (available separately or as part of that aforementioned trilogy set) touts the fact that Nguyen has had "full creative control restored." At least the shooting of the film itself is more crisp than before, and the music gets some dynamic separation in the DTS-HD MA 2.0 English track. Once again you get three commentaries: Nguyen solo, followed by Lord, Cuthberg and Bagh, and extra and four-time Jeopardy champion Andy Wood "and his neighbor Tony" reacting to the film after an intro by Hacker. The second track is the most, well, grounded of the three and has a pretty fun history of the making of the film, while the other two are about as close to an out of body experience as you'll have on the commentary front. Nguyen also contributes a video intro (3m) about his love for this film among the trilogy, followed by a reel of festival highlights (6m37s) and the original trailer.
Reviewed on March 23, 2023