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The Big Year—My Take

posted by Tim Avery at
on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 

I consider myself a movie buff.  I have been known to go to midnight openings for highly anticipated movies.  I generally like most movies as well.  I am not a tough critic, and for the most part enjoy movies for the art, the acting (good or bad), and the subtle things that others may not care about (music, set design, things going on in the background).  Truth be told I didn’t have the highest hopes for this movie, from the first previews, to the teasers, and the blog post reviews after opening night.  I had read the book some years ago and found it enjoyable.  I figured with the movie Hollywood would take some liberties, and try to make it interesting to the mainstream.  So this was what I went into the theatre in my head—but with an open mind to what it may actually end up being.

Now having seen the movie I can say two things. First, I see why birders have for the most part raved about it, and enjoyed it—I for one enjoyed it as well.  Secondly, the producers, writers, and directors missed a chance to make something big, and make something memorable.  Let’s talk about the second part first.

A movie about birders competing to see the most birds in a year in North America.  To your average Joe this has no appeal—I mean come on think about how absurd that sounds to someone who doesn’t watch birds.  SO Hollywood tries.  They take a book, change a bunch of facts, come up with a story that works based off the original facts, and make a movie.  They get three huge stars to play the main roles, and a supporting cast that has some pretty big names as well.  Regardless of the story, this thing should be gold.  Then opening weekend comes and the movie comes in #9 at the box office with just over $3,000,000 gross.  IT will be a miracle if it stays in the big theatres more than a week.

So what would have worked?  Does anyone remember Best in Show?  The parody of the Westminster Kennel Club’s top dog competition?  What about Dodgeball? The movie that made the “sport” more than just a playground game.  These movies were vividly different, but both immensely hilarious in their own ways.  They made fun of their subjects, but at the same time took the serious nature of the characters as a juxtaposition that made for comedy gold.  They were funny, entertaining, and successful.  They were everything the Big Year could have and should have been.

Imagine a docu-comedy about birders, where the characters are the extremes, and so serious about what they do, that you can’t help but laugh.  It’s okay to be made fun of—especially if it spreads awareness and gains popularity because of that.  Or a comedy that is just laugh after laugh after laugh at our expense.  Those types of movies would have been more geared at your average watcher, and may have been more successful.

Now some will say I am being too tough on the flick.  But thus far the sugar coated blog reviews are not an honest look at the movie.  They are reviews from the eyes of birders and that makes them lopsided.  And don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie—I found it entertaining, and I enjoyed the fun it poked.  Having done my own big year I felt some of the joy, the frustration, the pain, and excitement of the characters as they went about their journeys.  I laughed when I saw a bit of myself in each of them.  My wife by my side smirking at me from time to time as we both thought, “Man they nailed that portrayal”.  And yes in some instances they were over the top in their portrayals, but for the most part, it was pretty spot on and as hard as it may be for some of us to admit, we know some of those characters in real life.  We see those actions when we interact with other birders, and we have been through the same experiences as those in the movie. 

Perhaps the thing I found most enjoyable was the computer animated birds—some of them were stunning.  A certain woodpecker and hummingbird come to mind.  Some were equally bad, and others just ridiculous (High Island comes to mind).   Some of the actions of the birders were equally ridiculous, while others were just slight exaggerations.  At one point I saw Owen Wilson assuming the Jeff Bilsky birding stance—all rights reserved (I joke).  All in all like I have said, before, I enjoyed the movie.

The soundtrack wasn’t bad either, and the song by the Eels is a classic!  You can check it out here.

My wife, god bless her sat through it with me.  She saw the movie from the other side.  The wives of the characters, the people who deal with that craziness that ensues when birding is in full swing and the experiences we have had together and could relate to what was happening on screen.  She even told me afterwards that I had qualities of all the characters, and she had seen me do some of the ridiculous things they do. 

With that being said, if you are a birder (and I imagine if you are reading this you are), GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  Go see it before it is out of theatres and all you can do is pick it up at Redbox or on Netflix.  You should enjoy it, and you will probably have some of the same thoughts that I had.  You may even want to do a big year yourself!

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Anonymous Paul said...

That magazine cover is hilarious. I guess I need to go see the movie this week.

October 19, 2011 at 9:41 PM  
Blogger Stephanie Greenwood said...

It was really good. I was smiling ear-to-ear the whole time, my non-birder BF by my side, rolling his eyes at me, identifying with the neglected wives in the movie. I absolutely loved every minute of it.

October 19, 2011 at 10:29 PM  
Blogger Drew said...

I've been begging my brother to do a "Best in Show" style movie about birding for years now...maybe looking at the World Series of Birding or something like that.
There is just so much material to work with.

October 20, 2011 at 5:28 AM  
Blogger Tim Avery said...

@Paul: That's just one of several background props in the movie... But very funny indeed.

@Drew: We have joked about it for a while here in Utah. We came close to hiring a film student to follow us around on a big day to try and do the same thing. It really could be hilarious.

October 20, 2011 at 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Adrienne Jenkins said...

Songs featured in the movie are only available as individual downloads but the movie's score by Theodore Shapiro is available as a CD,


November 3, 2011 at 9:04 AM  

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