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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Big Year, the movie

"The Big Year" starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson opened last Friday to moderately positive reviews, but over its first weekend in theaters it didn't make as much money as its backers were hoping and so the entertainment media immediately branded it a flop.  Now, I read and enjoyed the book last year and I had been looking forward to the movie, so I decided I had better hurry on out and see it before it disappeared from my local theater.

I went to the earliest showing of the film today, certainly not the most popular time for movie-going.  There were less than ten people in the theater which seems to confirm the public's lack of interest, although there could well have been more for later screenings.  I settled back in my comfortable rocking chair to enjoy the film - and I did!  It was a very entertaining movie.

The movie does not condescend to birders or portray them as the hopeless dorks and dweebs that we usually see when some moviemker wants to show us what our hobby is like.  These are normal, everyday people who might be your neighbor.  Or you.  The only difference between these characters and the average birder is that they were totally obsessed with birds.

We have three grown men of various ages and stations in life who decide, individually, to try for a "big year," seeing the most birds that they can possibly see in that year.  One of the rules of a big year is that it must have a geographical dimension and theirs was North America.  Their obsession soon brings them in contact with each other and two of the men, the characters played by Jack Black and Steve Martin, develop a friendship.  The character played by Owen Wilson is the reigning big year champion with 732 bird species and he is totally focused on birds to the exclusion of anything else - including his marriage and normal human relationships.  The storyline of the film is the competition among these men to break the record and become the new big year champion, or, in the case of Wilson, to retain his crown.

The photography of the film, especially of the nature scenes, is quite beautiful.  The birds are shown in all their glory, including an amazing scene of the courtship flight of a pair of Bald Eagles.  Some of the sites shown will look very familiar to Southeast Texas birders, even if you are not a person who travels around the world to see birds.  There's a scene at Boy Scout Woods on High Island, for example, that looked very familiar indeed.

This is a gentle comedy.  It's not just about birds and not just for birders.  It's about people and what makes them tick, what gives them satisfaction, and what they are willing to sacrifice for that satisfaction.  It could just as easily be about any human interest other than birding.  It's a story for people-watchers, as well as for people who watch birds.  I hope it finds its audience.

I would give it three-and-a-half out of five stars and I would certainly recommend it to my fellow birders.  Even if, like me, you are not a competitive birder, I think you'll relate to these guys and that you will enjoy the film.

Showing at a theater near you, now!

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