RiffTrax Live: Birdemic – Shock and Terror

RiffTrax Live - BirdemicSynopsis: Relive what critics are calling “Definitely one of the top two RiffTrax Live events of 2012!”

If you loved the live show the first time you saw it or missed it because you were too busy hanging out, hanging out with your family, now here is your chance to own it! There will be slrpnls, bark beetles and animals such as seals! Plus, the show kicks off with everyone’s favorite lovable loser, Norman, in the short Norman Checks In.

Birdemic is one of our favorite bad movies of all time, and there’s no better way to watch it than RiffTrax Live. So grab a coat hanger, fire up your solar powered TV and for the love of god fully vest your stock options! Birdemic!

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RiffTrax Live: Birdemic – Shock and Terror 8.0

eyelights: the side-splitting riffs.
eyesores: the instances of sloppy riffing. the hilariously horrible main feature.

“This movie even managed to make the Pacific Ocean look wooden and phony!”

On October 25, 2012, the RiffTrax gang decended on the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tenessee, for another one of their live riff performances. With Hallowe’en in mind, they chose 2008’s ‘Birdemic: Shock and Terror’, the infamously terrible homage to the Alfred Hitchcock classic ‘The Birds‘.

Although I had seen the trailers for it and laughed my @$$ off, I never had any intention of ever seeing ‘Birdemic’. Heck, I’m no great fan of ‘The Birds’ to start with, but I’m also wary of watching bad movies just for the sake of it; I already pollute my brain on a regular basis.

Why do it on purpose?

But the RiffTrax commentary was a draw, especially having seen the ‘Sharknado’ one at the cinema last summer (I didn’t write that one up because I was unable to take notes while watching it – and they haven’t yet made it available on home video). I figure that the skewering was worth the agony.

The show began with the RiffTrax crew (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett) being announced by… Kevin Murphy. Honestly, this DYI approach has become a habit that I wish the RiffTrax gang would skip in the future. I’m sure they can find a crew member, a friend, or even a fan to do this gratis.

What was strange was that there were some picture and audio issues right from the onset. I had experienced regular audio drop-outs during ‘Sharknado’ and it spoiled the outing for me, so I worried that this might be a recurring problem here. Thankfully, this was immediately resolved. And forgotten.

After a little banter, out trio started off with a “comedy” short called ‘Norman Checks In’. They have riffed three other ‘Norman Krasner’ shorts in the past, but I have not seen them. My understanding is that they were initially intended to be educational shorts for businessmen.

Norman Checks In‘, however, is anything but educational. It finds Kresner checking in (hence the title) at a hotel, only to find his room moved to 13X due to a taxidermist convention having taken over the place. “We pre-stained the towels for you”, said Bill, at the sight of Norman’s room.

For all of six minutes, we were fortunate enough to watch Norman pratfall, run out of water while taking a shower, scare the maid with his nakedness (we can only sympathize with her!), and try to sleep. “When Norman checks in, you check out”, Mike comments to the roars of the live audience. 8.0

Then came the coup de grâce, the main feature, ‘Birdemic: Shock and Awe’. The picture was written/co-produced/directed by software salesman-turned-filmmaker James Nguyen on ten grand. Already hobbled by the budget, it is somehow given multiple death blows by Nguyen’s unfathomable ineptitude.

The Rifftrax crew begin by introducing the picture to give it some context, telling the audience that it’s an homage to ‘The Birds’ – if one meant “utter desecration” when saying “homage”, they add. They even forewarn the audience that the visual effects are terrible and that there will be audio drop-outs.

These were issues actually part of the original picture!

“Birdemic” is a mind-boggling picture. I don’t even know how to relate just how poorly-conceived it is. The first five minutes consist of driving around with the protagonist, Rod, with the camera set on the inside of his car. And when there are shots from outside, he’s driving excruciatingly slowly.

“Bumper-to-bumper traffic: the motion picture”, Mike comments, as we watch this endless stream of Rod driving around. “There’s more driving here than in ‘Drive””, Kevin adds. And it wouldn’t be the last of the driving: we would be watching Rod driving around for much of the rest of the 90 minutes.

But that’s almost a blessing, because, the rest of the time, we were watching Rod have multiple breakfasts, stalk a girl he oggled in a cafe, hanging around in his kitchen (apparently the only room in his house!), make lame banter with a friend at a basketball court, or work… as a software salesman.

Nguyen’s personality comes forth in ‘Birdemic’. Not only is his character a fantasy reflection of himself (naturally, he gets to date a hot Victoria’s Secret model!), but he also injects every part of his picture with ham-fisted environmental messages, inspired by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth’.

Unfortunately, his choice of lead is Alan Bagh, a non-actor who can’t deliver one single line naturally; he makes his character look like he was set on stun at birth. Mother Nature has given this poor sap very few gifts: not only is he inarticulate, and a bore, but he’s so dumb he doesn’t know how to walk.

Natural selection should eventually take care of that.

Most of the picture consists of him wooing Nathalie, a spritely dunce, who overcomes her initial aversion to soon become entirely charmed by his utter lack of social skills. This romance is the stuff of legend: Watch them go to a pumpkin festival! Watch them “dance” alone in a bar with an r&b singer!

It takes 20 minutes before we see our first birds, and they are a CGI grotesquery that slowly flap their wings from the left side of the screen into the picture. But when the birds really do come out, they are out with a vengeance: suddenly they’re everywhere, attacking people and setting fires!

Yes, fires.

The creatures are so poorly-conceived that it’s a total joke. In fact, that was the most hilarious part of the trailer, watching the actors try to interact with these superimposed birds that were barely animated (in fact, sometimes they merely hung there in the air, like floating rocks. Or turds.)

The funniest bit was watching people fight the birds. Do you remember the Nintendo “Duck Hunt” game from 1984? Watching ‘Birdemic’ is like watching someone else play “Duck Hunt”: the action is as anemic, and the birds actually drop from the sky in the same manner. It’s a total riot to see.

‘Birdemic’ has NO technical merit whatsoever. The audio is extremely problematic, changing from one take to the next, the editing is so bad that it makes dialogues choppy, or it neuters the establishing shots, establishing nothing, and the special effects are anything but special.

One could blame the budget, but the writing is also plagued with all sorts of hilarious ineptitude. There’s a lovely scene when a buddy asks Rod where his girlfriend went, and Rod answers something along the lines of: “She’s taking a shit”. Watching the girl squat with a roll of tp brought the idea home.

Nguyen’s hand behind the camera is also risible. There’s a scene when Rod and Nathalie get their back-up tank of gasoline jacked by a dumpy middle-aged man with a gun. Somehow, it made sense for him to back away from them in the opposite direction from his own car.

Um… before being killed by a random bird.

Oy vey!

‘Birdemic: Shock and Terror’ is probably one of those films that is impossible to watch without a good peanut gallery (it would be far too painful to watch otherwise), and the RiffTrax gang certainly deliver on this one. There is some sloppy riffing (stumbling and wooden reading), but the zingers were ace.

I’d even say that this is a strong contender for my favourite “RiffTrax Live’ disc (‘Sharknado’ would clinch it if ever it was released). So, although I was starting to have reservations about RiffTrax, having seen a few less inspired ones of late, the “Birdemic’ show has hit the reset button for me.

Now, if only they could just tweak their presentation, making it more of a show than just a live reading of pre-written lines (ex: ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space‘ had an MC, guests and short bits), I’d be an utterly devoted fan. Guys, please give us a reason to see RiffTrax live, instead of just watching the regular RiffTrax commentaries.

Then I’m sure people would… ahem… flock to cinemas to see you.

Date of viewing: December 26, 2014

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