The Birds is a classic. It took the monster movies of the 1950s and scaled things down. Instead of giant gila monsters attacking cities, you got birds attacking a small town. Instead of schlock, you got real terror.
The same cannot be said for The Birds II: Land’s End, a made-for-TV sequel that was released some thirty years after the original. Right from the get go, it’s clear that this movie isn’t going to live up to the original, and by the end of the opening credits, when the name “Alan Smithee” appears, it’s clear that this isn’t going to be an enjoyable experience.
The film opens with a man on a boat being attacked by birds. They scratch him to death and apparently throw him violently around the boat. Who knew birds had so much power?
The plot is trite and unoriginal: after the death of their son Tommy, Ted and May, along with their two daughters, move into a house on a remote island off of the East Coast. They have moved there so that Ted can get past Tommy’s death (which occurred five years earlier) and so that he can have some peace while he writes his thesis. Soon after they arrive attacking people.
The plot could actually be interesting if it was handled with any sort of tact or skill. Instead of easing into Tommy’s death and the effect that it had on Ted, it’s simply dropped in as a 20 second flashback of a car flipping over. It’s clear that it’s supposed to have some emotional impact on us, give us some insight into Ted’s character, but it doesn’t. Part of that is attributable to the inept handling of the reveal, but most of the blame falls on actor Brad Johnson.
While there’s plenty of bad acting to go around, Johnson gets the lion’s share. He’s fine when he’s smiling and acting like a normal dad, but when he has to do anything beyond that, he falls flat.
The same can be said for Chelsea Field, who plays his wife, May. There is a scene about halfway through the film where she tearfully tells Ted that he needs to get over the loss of their son Tommy and focus on their two living children. The moment is supposed to play as a big emotional speech, but instead it comes across as laughable. Field doesn’t even come close to selling it.
There are plenty of other clichés in the movie, including May’s overly sexual boss at the local newspaper, Frank. He is constantly making borderline inappropriate comments about her and is about as subtle as a hammer. He might also be as smart as one. At one point, he asks May to help him figure out how to use a new computer, quipping “I don’t know my RAM from my ROM.” In the bleak landscape of characters in the film, this is probably the biggest trait the writers give to a character.
Eventually May and Frank end up kissing, and while we are supposed to believe there is some sort of love triangle between the two of them and Ted, it never really goes anywhere. May never has any sort of emotional breakthrough and never realizes that she should be with her husband. Then again, Ted doesn’t seem to want her around.
Aside from the pacing and acting, the movie’s biggest problem is that it’s just boring. Nothing happens for the first twenty or so minutes. Instead of anything interesting, we are treated to a montage of the family getting settled in to the island’s small town lifestyle.
While at the local store with his daughters, they discover the boat of the man who was killed in the pre-credit sequence. According to the police officers, there is no trace of the man left. This begs the question…did the birds just eat an entire human being, bones and all, à la a swarm of piranhas?
After Ted is attacked by a malicious, dive-bombing raven and knocked off a ladder, he seeks out the town doctor…who also happens to be the mayor. He holds court at the local bar, since mixing liquor and medicine is always a great idea. He’s your typical small town mayor and exists solely to doubt Ted’s claims that the birds are attacking him.
The rest of the movie meanders along until one night, when hundreds of birds decide to launch their attack by streaming into the window of the two little girls’ room.
This is the only scene in the entire movie where there is any tension. It doesn’t last, however, as the scene drags out for far too long, padded with shots of the birds flying around the room in what is best described as a bird tornado.
This seems like enough to convince the townspeople that there is something wrong, so everyone tries to leave the island on the local ferry to the mainland the next morning. The birds decide that since everyone is in one place, they should probably attack. The mayor finally starts to believe Ted. One of his cronies throws him a shotgun and he says “All these birds need is a little attitude adjustment”, before shooting one out of the air.
During this final rampage, the entire downtown of the small island is enveloped in panic as birds attack everyone in sight. After accidentally lighting the pier on fire by shooting a bird out of the air, the mayor is burned alive. Sadly, he doesn’t get a cheesy last line. Just a one second shot of him on fire in the water.
After managing to escape in a boat, Ted and his family end up stranded in the middle of the water as the birds start to attack them. They flip the boat over and hide beneath it, although the birds manage to peck their way through the steel hull in a matter of seconds.
Then, for no reason, the birds just stop. They fly away and Ted and his family emerge from the cover of the boat. “They’re headed for the mainland,” Ted informs us as the credits start to roll. No explanation is given, no tension built up and certainly no logic followed.
Why are these birds attacking? The closest we get to a solid explanation is that it has something to do with the tides.
One of the few things that actually impressed me about the movie was that the birds were somewhat convincing. There are a few shots where it’s clear that birds were added in after the fact (especially in the bedroom bird tornado attack) but for the most part the live bird effects are well done. The same cannot be said, however, for the dead birds that seemingly litter every inch of the island’s beaches. The fake bird corpses are not even close to convincing and most of the time look like wet papier-mâché lumps.
Overall, this movie doesn’t even come close to the original. I can’t say I blame Rick Rosenthal for taking his name off of the project, since it’s not something to be proud of. He’s directed a few decent films over the years, so it’s good to see that his career survived the hit he must have taken from this movie.
Whereas The Birds is a classic, The Birds II: Land’s End will be remembered as a footnote in articles about the original. Maybe that’s for the best.