A phenomenon occurs when a cult bad movie becomes big enough. The reputation grows to the point where it becomes implausible that the director would not grow aware that their film is not enjoyed for the reasons they intended. When and if they do become aware, they have a choice to make. They can go the Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2) route and insist that they made a good movie in spite of the criticism, or they can go the Tommy Wiseau (The Room) route and claim that they set out at the beginning to make a dark comedy.
I cannot tell for the life of me if Birdemic 3′s James Nguyen has reached this self-aware state. The quality of his filmmaking has not improved significantly in the twelve intervening years since the original Birdemic (widely considered one of the worst movies ever released). His screenwriting is alien-esque in its polite but blunt didacticism. Birdemic 3 is, it could easily be argued, an inferior film to Birdemic.
Yet I can’t figure out if Nguyen is in on his own joke. It seems unlikely that a director would make three installments in a series that is so heavily derided and not understand the game. Nguyen could be playing up the ineptitude of the filmmaking in order to make an intentional “so bad it’s good” cult film. And there are reasons to believe this might be the case.
At one point, a news program playing on a television jump cuts in a place where it was totally unnecessary to make such a glaring continuity error. Did Nguyen put these jump cuts in on purpose, as a gag? The audio issues are on par with those from Birdemic, but they are more illogical. Why is the audio worse when you cut into close-up? Did you use a boom in the wides and a broken shotgun mic on the over-the-shoulders? Not to mention the multiple shots where there is no sound at all, even though people’s mouths are moving.
It all just reads too precisely imprecise. Nguyen did publish a (48-page) memoir one year after the success of Birdemic that one could read as an opportunistic cash-in (you can get it now for $19.99 on Amazon). I would not be the least bit surprised if I read an interview where he claims to understand the formula for the good-bad movie.
If Nguyen is “in” on the gag, then the gag is simply no good. You can’t purposely set out to make a cult bad movie. It’s a lazy form of charlatanism that fans of bad movies don’t appreciate. If Nguyen isn’t in on the joke, then what he has made is merely an 83-minute PSA (four minutes of which are an opening credits sequence of a guy driving a car, and four further minutes of which are an end credits sequence over a static image of the film’s poster) on the threat of climate change (and how great Hitchcock’s Vertigo is) that is so hopelessly superficial and didactic that it is made only for those who have never set foot on our planet before.
The first film was also about climate (I can’t speak to the second, but I imagine it is much of the same), but I don’t remember the dialogue in Birdemic being 100% about either the environment or how great Alfred Hitchcock movies are. Birdemic 3 isn’t even a Birdemic movie until the final 20 minutes. Most of the runtime is dedicated to people saying lines about the environment. At one point, a character says, entirely unprompted, “Well, we better fix global warming.”
In my book, James Nguyen is in a lose-lose situation. Either he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s intentionally wasting my time. Or he has learned nothing from Hitchcock in the last 12 years, in which case this film falls under the purview of the old adage that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Birdemic is the only Birdemic movie you need to see if you enjoy bad movies. For everyone else, nothing in this series is worth your investment.
Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle: F
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)
Also: the worst movies I’ve ever seen (you’ll never guess what’s #1!).