James Nguyen’s trash trilogy reaches the final (for now) instalment – but will it be third time unlucky or is the outsider magic still there?
There are many questions that you might ask about Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle, most of which are some variation of ‘why?’. A simple ‘why?’ being the first of these, of course – does the world really need or deserve three (and counting) Birdemic films? The notorious ‘good bad movie’ original, the film that ought to be what The Room is in terms of global reputation but which had its wings clipped by distribution hoo-has, is now – deep breath here at the passage of time – twelve years old. Who might have thought, while marvelling at the insane wonder that was Birdemic: Shock and Terror all that time ago, that we’d be back seeing a third instalment in the series? Even odder, being told not to call this a trilogy because there is more on the way?
The other ‘why’ here is why visionary director James Nguyen has not improved one iota in the time since the first film. Well, part of this might be a lack of practice – Nguyen’s filmography, once we remove Birdemic films, is not an extensive one and – as odd as it sounds for anyone who has seen it – Birdemic 2 was a somewhat compromised affair with interfering producers and moneymen who wanted the Nguyen Birdemic madness but who also wanted to hedge their bets by making a more ‘traditional exploitation film. The joke, of course, was on them because Birdemic 2 had barely any sort of release. This third instalment in the series, despite being exec-produced by Severin Films, is essentially pure Nguyen. Severin’s only interference, it seems, has been to avoid making any post-production improvements – colour grading, sound balance and the like – that would make Birdemic 3 at least look and sound more like a regular movie. This might seem an unnecessary cruelty by using someone’s technical incompetence against them – after all, most Hollywood films have entire crews looking after these things and their directors might well be just as clueless when it comes to such things. Birdemic 3 has a long list of production credits but it will come as no surprise to find that most of these people do not exist in real life. James Nguyen does pretty much everything here. But it does make the film very much Pure, 100% Nguyen with no filler. Be careful what you wish for, though.
If you’ve seen Birdemic: Shock and Terror, then you’ve pretty much seen Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle. Presumably, Nguyen’s production remit on this was ‘make it like the first film’ and he takes that literally, making the new film effectively a re-run of everything that happened in the original. A young couple – Evan (Ryan Lord) and Kim (Julia Culbert) meet, date and fall in love in what must be the most long-winded and painfully unlikely romance ever filmed. She’s a marine biologist and he’s the inventor or salesman (things are unclear) of an anti-ageing drug that secures him a $10 million dollar investment after the most haphazard sales pitch imaginable (“my new drug somehow or other fights ageing”, “Brilliant, here’s $10 million”). Kim has a face like a slapped arse throughout the romance, only perking up at the thought of getting a new Tesla or during a very, very long dance routine in a local bar. Is this how James Nguyen sees women or is it indicative of his relationships with them? Every line of dialogue between the two of them is awkward even for terrible actors (and make no mistake – these two are perhaps the worst actors to so far grace the series) and their reactions to each other are just weird. It’s as though an alien has observed human mating rituals once and then gone off to write a book about it for his fellow extra-terrestrials. All culminates in perhaps the most awkward and lengthy kiss in screen history before the birds finally make their long-awaited appearance.
Readers familiar with the series will no doubt have a sense of deja vu by now and yes – this is effectively a remake, with enough furious nods to the original to still work as a sequel. What’s extraordinary here is how everything that happened in the original movie also happens here, but much more slowly, which will not be a selling point for many people. And then there is the environmental message.
Now, the original Birdemic touched on climate change as a possible cause for why the birds attacked but here the message is relentlessly hammered home in a way that even George Romero might have considered excessive. As Evan and Kim walk around their seaside town, every few moments they encounter a strange who will immediately start banging on – and on and on – about “dam global warming”. And I mean everyone – passing scientists, passing artists, passing billionaires with a plan to build a tunnel to space that people can use instead of spaceships (which really needs to be Nguyen’s next film). Even the bar singers are singing about climate change. It’s like an entire town of Extinction Rebellion members (and yes, he even includes the most pathetic street protest you could imagine where you can literally watch the actors losing the will to live as they wait in vain for the director to call ‘cut’). An important message for sure but after a while, it rather wears you down and makes you want to go out and burn as much fossil fuel as possible just to piss these people off.
Finally – and just as you might be losing the will to live – the birds attack. Nguyen’s special effects have not improved. His birds now look a bit better, but also more like cartoons, so the two things cancel each other out. There is no sense of proportion and so the only time you know if a swooping bird is anywhere near a character is when some unconvincing blood spurts from their throat. Not having enough characters to kill anyone important off, Nguyen introduces a collection of passing extras to fall victim to bird attacks – bikers enjoying a beer picnic in the woods, a black guy who seems suspiciously close to a stereotype jigging to his favourite tune in the woods… you get the idea. Birdemic 3 has, incidentally, a lot more music than the original, including a return for singer Damien Carter in the restaurant scene that now stretches the ‘romantic’ dancing out for two whole songs. I hope the Blu-ray comes with a soundtrack CD.
Back for the third time is original star Alan Bagh, who appears with a new girlfriend (Whitney Moore having somehow escaped the series) which leads to what feels like the only intentionally funny moment as his girl has a hissy fit over the fact that he went out with someone else ten years ago. Bagh – who is certainly a good sport – at least seems to know by now what he is caught up in and gets to wave a coathanger – his signature weapon – at the birds.
There was some debate, post-screening, if Nguyen actually knows what a Sea Eagle is and if he had not confused them with seagulls – notoriously angry birds that generally need no reason to attack people. To be fair, his birds do look like sea eagles, as much as they look like anything. Who knows though? There is so much madness at work here – a genuine off-kilter approach to everything that we had confirmed directly over the Mayhem Film Festival weekend – that nothing quite seems impossible.
If you didn’t ‘get’ Birdemic: Shock and Terror, then this definitely won’t be for you. It’s more of the same, just dragged out for much longer. I was genuinely astounded to realise that Nguyen has, if anything, become a worse filmmaker than he was in 2010, as if all the laughter and astounded gasps from audiences around the world had been interpreted as unironic enjoyment of the slow-burn romance and so he decided to include even more of that this time around. Nguyen has long made out that he is in on the joke and enjoys the idea that people found his film hilariously bad – a retrospective understanding of just what he had made. I suspect that he puts on a good front but deep inside still believes the first film to be genuinely good and doesn’t know why people are laughing. This is why I don’t believe that he is doing this deliberately now – it suggests both a self-awareness and the ability to consciously fake the awfulness of the first film for a second time that I just don’t think is there. On some level, Nguyen knows that audiences are laughing at his film – I just don’t think he knows at what.
Birdemic 3: Sea Eagle is almost too much – I found myself shaking my head and muttering “oh Jesus” as much as laughing out loud this time, stunned as I was at how he had managed to take every bad aspect of the original and somehow make it worse – not necessarily laughably worse, just… worse. The endless preaching becomes a bit like water torture after a while and the action takes forever to start before fizzling out in much the same way as in the original. Is the film fun? Of course. The sense of outsider absurdity and misguided enthusiasm still carries it through – though like the other Birdemic films, it is probably a lot more fun to watch with an audience than on your own. Most people I know who don’t enjoy Birdemic are people who saw it, alone, on their TVs and that’s understandable. These are communal experiences, at least for first viewing.
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Is there a reason for the Van Gogh style poster? It’s a striking design and I’d love to know who dreamt it up. Does it serve a story specific purpose or is it just yet another incongruous piece in the Nguyen puzzle?
It is a plot point of a sort – there’s an artist character who pops up and his work is all over the film. I assume he’s either a friend of Nguyen or possibly an investor, but who knows? Once james gets an idea, he likes to hammer it home so this might just be another example of that. But this poster art even appears over the closing credits!
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