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March 25, 2019

SIMS | Can We Just Watch Bad Movies?

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notification popped up on my phone on Thursday afternoon while I was trying not to do my homework. It was from GroupMe, telling me that I had been added to a chat by a friend, Tia Offner ’20, with whom I’ve spent many hours at our residence hall engaging in a sector of activities we like to call “good, wholesome fun.” Neither of us cares much for parties or nights out on the town, but we’re all about caustic humor, movie nights, DIY games of Family Feud and rounds of Settlers of Catan.

And what was the name of the chat? “Can we just watch shit movies.”

Quickly, the chat grew to 14 people and plans were devised. Names of bad movies were thrown around and people discussed the artistic merits of the 2005 CGI family comedy atrocity Hoodwinked. Sun Design Editor Sabrina Xie ’21, upon finding herself with dozens of notifications of messages like, “we are contractually obligated to watch The Room,” shot back “why am i in this group i only watch high quality cultural touchstone academy award winning FILMS.”

Yet, who was there, at 7 p.m. on Saturday when we settled into the TV room to watch Birdemic: Shock and Terror? Sabrina was, plus half a dozen of the other group chat members.

There was excitement in the air and people buzzed about the apparent excellence of the film. About half of us hadn’t seen it before — but many had, with our bad-movie aficionado, group-chat creator and DVD provider having watched it a dozen times. I will admit, as I prepare to write several hundred words of critique, I missed probably about 60 percent of the dialogue in the film because everyone in the room was happy to talk over the subtitle-less film.

And while my reason for watching it was because it was bad, I quickly figured out that I didn’t really want to be watching Birdemic. I was happy to be sitting around yelling at a screen, but something about the experience just wasn’t up to par with films like the Sharknado series, The Bee Movie or even Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical.

I don’t regret the time spent with my friends making stupid jokes, but I think it would have been a better time if it were virtually any other movie. Afterward, Cal Poulin ’19 messaged in the GroupMe, “Birdemic makes me feel tired,” and he’s totally right. When the movie finished before 9 p.m., I was wiped out physically, emotionally and cognitively. If movies are supposed to be passive, why did I feel like I had just been in a two-hour-long academic debate, fight with a friend and boxing match all at the same time?

So, outside of the so-bad-it’s-good stuff, what sucks about Birdemic?

A murderous bird disease outbreak is perhaps the least compelling narrative strategy for catalyzing action on climate change, when there are effects of climate change what are far more real, human and scary; ones that aren’t so easily dismissed for their inanity.

One reason that I think Birdemic was less fun is its long-windedness. The shots just keep going on and on. A harsher, or just better, editor could have made the film 20 minutes shorter without losing any of the plot. A better writer also wouldn’t have the exposition of the film take up half of the run-time when the characters are so flat and lifeless. All I wanted was to get to the birds.

Another reason for my distaste of Birdemic may be that it just is reminiscent of all of my worst artistic endeavors. In middle school, I was sure I was going to make it big as a director and made all sorts of awful shorts with my friends. Although I do think we often surpassed Birdemic’s production value, a lot of our bad editing and stiff acting was similar.

Finally, I do think that Birdemic took itself just a little more seriously than a lot of its counterparts. The Bee Movie and the later Sharknado films, for example, poke a little bit of fun at their own premises. While they’re still peddling their agendas, it’s not quite as sincere, and the acknowledgment of their absurdity helps soften their impression.

I’m not mad that I watched Birdemic, but I don’t expect to be coming back to it often. Even when looking for a bad movie, sometimes I just want something better.

Katie Sims is a junior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at ksims@cornellsun.com. Resident Bad Media Critic runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.