Director/Screenplay/Producer – James Nguyen, Photography – Tri Nguyen, Music – Ilan Herman, Visual Effects – Bobby Hacker & John Roberts. Production Company – Moviehead Pictures.
Ryan Lord (Evan), Julia Culbert (Kim), Alan Bagh (Rod), Victorya Brandart (Katie), Marc De Nola (Real Estate Guy), Ryan Martin (Hungry Artist), Max Troia (Mr Green), Lee McLaughlin (Dr Extinction), Ryan Taplin (Surfer Guy), Eric Swartz (CEO), Damien Carter (Singer), Cameron Palmer (Mr Half Moon Bay), Ryan Tapper (Rapper), Carlos Ramos (Astronomy Guy), Manuel Rodriguez, Marcos Vasquez & Phil Vasquez (Harley Bikers)
Evan, a scientist specialising in gerontology who has created his own start-up, travels to Santa Cruz. On the beach, he meets Kim, a climate scientist conducting tests for ocean acidity. He asks her out and the two embark on a relationship. Through her, Evan becomes inspired to start learning more about the threat of Global Warming. While on a trip around the North California redwood forests, they are attacked by birds. They join forces with Rod, who experienced another bird attack several years earlier, in an effort to survive.
When it first appeared, Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008) was regarded as an instant Bad Movie hit. Its legendary ineptitude turned it into a Cult Film and for a time it ranked up there alongside The Room (2003), although that cult seems to have faded a few years later while The Room still remains a midnight favourite after nearly two decades. It was the brainchild of James Nguyen who was a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Nguyen went on to make a sequel with Birdemic 2: The Resurrection (2013), which proved just as a bad as its predecessor.
Birdemic 3 – Sea Eagle is a third film in the series. Alan Bagh, the hero from the first two films, makes a return appearance. Nguyen raised the money by crowd-sourcing, although when I look up the campaign it seems to have only raised $795 of a projected $600,000 budget. Other internet sources claim anything from the film having a budget from $100,000 to $600,000 – which seems unlikely from the quality of the film on display – to $10,000 – far more believable. David Gregory, the director of Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau (2014) and producer on a number of other documentaries about filmmakers, appears to have come to the party and is credited as Executive Producer.
From the moment it opens with a pop song on the soundtrack to the photography following Ryan Lord as he drives along the highway and wanders the beaches of Santa Cruz, Birdemic 3 instantly looks a lot more professional than its predecessors. Your immediate thought is wondering whether a Birdemic film with a decent budget is actually going to kill all the bad movie charms that made the originals so endearing to audiences. Any such worries are immediately shot down when Ryan Lord encounters Julia Culbert on the beach in the opening scene. The scene has all the hallmarks of a James Nguyen film – abrupt dropoffs in sound quality between one shot and the next; similar dramatic changes in lighting levels (no doubt due to shooting on a beach where natural light is being disrupted by cloud); and stilted romantic dialogue.
Thereafter, Birdemic 3 proceeds exactly as we expect it to. All three films, which James Nguyen describes as ‘romantic thrillers’, have essentially the same plot in which a white guy who has made it as some kind of start-up or tech entrepreneur, which was Nguyen’s background before turning to filmmaking, comes to town and meets a blonde girl and ends up in a relationship with her before the birds attack. You can only speculate that this would appear to represent some kind of romantic wish fulfilment on James Nguyen’s part, although you can only take Freudian interpretation of what the recurrent ‘birdus interruptus’ aspect means. Expectedly the romantic scenes fall flat in Ryan Lord’s flat and affectionless reading. Not to mention come with some prize bad dialogue: “I love you.” “By love, does that mean you’re going to buy me a Tesla?” The other familiar aspect is Nguyen’s constant genuflection at the feet of Alfred Hitchcock with visits to the winery where Hitchcock was supposedly inspired to create The Birds and the San Juan Bautista locations for Vertigo (1958).
The main problem with Birdemic 3 is that James Nguyen seriously misconstrues the reasons audiences have come to watch the film. Audiences want to be able to laugh at crappy bird effects and bad filmmaking. Instead, what Nguyen seems to think we want is a film that warns us about the dangers of Global Warming. Certainly, this was an aspect that ran through all the previous Birdemic films where it was posited as an explanation for the bird attacks. The issue is clearly a pressing concern for Nguyen.
Here however, Nguyen turns almost the entire film into a lecture about Global Warming. Ryan Lord watches tv documentaries about it and the couple have romantic discussions about it on their first date (in between Lord lecturing her about a healthy diet for a long-life – is this really how scientists talk when they go on dates?). Everywhere they go, the two seem to encounter people from surfers to realtors to beach artists to environmental scientists who stop and lecture them about the dangers of climate change. Even when they go dancing, the singer in the background sings a song about Global Warming.
I get that James Nguyen is passionate about imparting his message – so much so that Birdemic 3 consists of 57 minutes of environmental lecture (two-thirds of the film’s running time) before we get any birds. There are certainly a few birds that fly through in the background of the beach scenes and one scene where Julia Culbert chases a flock of seagulls on the beach, but crucially no bird attacks. It reminds me of my student days when we used to go for free meals with the Hare Krishnas, which would require that you sit through a talk about religion before being fed. I can guarantee you that if Nguyen thinks that his audience came to be lectured about Global Warming then he seriously misconstrues what the fandom for the series is all about.
Even aside from that, some of the ideas being presented are a little loopy. At one point, the group encounter a character called Mr Green (Max Troia) who proposes fund-raising for building a space elevator and that this will somehow be able to magically transport all of the carbon in the atmosphere into orbit. Later they encounter an astronomy buff (Carlos Ramos) (who takes Hubble resolution, colour adjusted photographs of other galaxies on his home telescope) and is thankful that humanity has not allowed its environmental despoliation to spread to other worlds. When Nguyen demonstrates he has no ability to differentiate between making a strong science-supported point and loopy batshit science, he does serious discredit to the message he wants to make.
The bird attacks eventually arrive. The disappointment is that the effects have noticeably improved since the first two films. There are still digital birds and they fly about in ways that frequently do not connect with the actions of the actors on screen trying to fight them off. The quality is effects is better – no double exposed explosions and birds simply flying from left to right on screen, they actually act in three-dimensional ways, while we also get some digital gore as they slash throats. There are all the same ridiculous scenes where they dive bomb buildings and cause explosions. The biggest disappointment though is that we barely get 20 or so minutes of bird attack scenes before the plot comes to an abrupt halt and the birds fly off as the survivors stand around saying “They’re gone … They went out to the sea … The birds are giving us a second chance.”