FROM THE BLUE SKY TO THE SILVER SCREEN
If you are like most birders I know, then you, too, are eager to see the only mainstream bird watching movie ever to be created come alive on the big screen. Michelle and I were no different — we just couldn’t wait! And, as it turns out, living in Los Angeles has its’ perks! Last Thursday, October 6th, we were invited to an advance screening of The Big Year (We felt like VERY lucky ducks!). I must admit that the two of us sat grinning ear-to-ear from curtains to credits…we loved it!
Excitement aside, we were anxious to examine the angles of the movie about which we birders are actually concerned. You know what I’m talking about…. How are birders portrayed? Is this movie going to set birding back fifty years, OR is it going to elevate our cool factor? How will this movie contribute to the future of birding? Is the film accurate? Do these movie people even know the difference between a Finch and a Flycatcher? How does the film compare to the original book we all know and love? Does the trailer do this film any justice? (I hope not!) Is this movie just one big joke about our favorite pastime? And if it is, how dare they!! Get the gist?
I will be “reviewing”, for lack of a better word, this movie from a birder’s eye view. So, if you are looking for a complex cinematic analysis, then this isn’t the review for you. What you will get from me, however, is an honest assessment of the movie as it relates to real-life birding. Now, let’s cut to the good stuff!
Here’s the scoop: The movie is a loose adaptation of Mark Obmascik’s book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the film itself is really just a fictionalized version inspired by the actual events.
Is the movie an accurate portrayal of what it means to do a Big Year? Well, it certainly depicts the tribulations one goes through in order do so. A full year of birding is met with physical, financial and familial sacrifices that not everyone is prepared to make. It is a spare-nothing-throw-all-your-chips-in-the-pot kind of game. Without a doubt, the craziness and exhilaration that is extreme birding definitely come across.
From Rare Bird Alerts and tallies to geography and terminology, the movie was (mostly) on point! Given our, ahem, superior listing capabilities, I am certain that a good number of birders have created, at least, a mental compilation of all of the film’s inaccuracies, including, but not limited to: inappropriate habitats, inexact bird calls, and flawed species identification, to name a few. As expected, there were some – but nothing SO outrageous that I would be forced to throw popcorn at the screen, squawk in outrage and draw serious attention to myself… that’s telling, right? LOL. In the end, I opted to overlook the imperfections and to focus on the very entertaining birding flick before me!
I don’t know about you, but the trailer left me mildly confused. Not only did it fail to incite a single laugh, but, um… where were the birds??? With a cast of comic heavy-hitters, I surely expected this film to be a slapstick affair. So much so, that I had braced myself for potential mockery. After all, I, and most other birders I know, will readily fess up to our quirky avian obsession and corresponding idiosyncrasies. We laugh about them all the time… we just aren’t sure we want to be laughed at!
Overall, birders are treated with remarkable respect throughout the film. Shockingly, there are no cringe-worthy moments I can recall. I was prepared for a wince here and there, but in the end, the film offered a pretty accurate glimpse of what it is like to be a diehard birder. The characters in the movie portray birders as honorable, clever, respectful, enthusiastic, fun, highly competitive, persistent and passionate human beings. Our unbridled enthusiasm for nature’s winged wonders came through in Technicolor (as brightly as lilac breasted roller)! Bottom line: I didn’t have to shamefully stuff my binoculars in my purse and scurry out the back. Instead, with bins hanging firmly around my neck, I sauntered proudly to the furthest exit and flaunted my birder status along the way, as only a peacock would.
The beautiful landscapes and cinematography were awe-inspiring. The soundtrack had us giggling the whole way through. The lifer dance had us cracking up, as Michelle and I busted out in our own lifer choreography mid-film! A birder will always want more birds, of course. However, in order to make this movie mainstream enough to attract attention and viewership, the studio had to achieve a delicate balance between Larks and laughs – and I think it did so successfully. There are two things I would have loved to have seen in the film: 1) A more diverse group of birders, specifically some more female representation, and 2) Deeper insight into the characters’ birding backgrounds in order to explain how their love of birds transpired.
The movie is relatable on so many levels. Struggling to achieve a healthy bird-work-life balance (a challenge for many of us, I know!) is at the center of this film. The Big Year is about the human spirit. It’s about camaraderie. It is about individuals striving to be the best at something. We all want to make our mark in this world – be it through birding, boxing or business. Everyone can relate to this film on some level… that is what makes is great for birders and non-birders alike.
Speaking of which, I am off to see the film with my husband (#2 for me!), this evening, and I am already bracing myself for nudges as he spots some all-too-familiar birding behavior (wink). For birders with non-birding spouses: I think you will laugh exceptionally hard!
I, wholeheartedly, believe that The Big Year will generate interest in birding. It will serve to engender public awareness, unravel some of the mysteries behind the eccentric birding culture, and make birding far more mainstream than it has ever been. At the very least, the film will infuse life and context into our sport/hobby/reality in a way that others can now understand. I don’t know about you, but for me, this is a relief. From now on, I will merely suggest that all of my “yet-to-be-birder” friends watch this film in order to grasp the intensity and heart that make this sport so extraordinary.
And, yes, I DO believe that our cool factor has, undoubtedly, been upped a notch. Kudos to The Big Year!!
SPOILER ALERT! I know there are sites buzzing about the birding gear throughout the movie, but this just seems like the movie reviewer’s equivalent of giving the ending away. I will refrain from revealing the details of the scopes, bins and lenses strewn about the screen. Not to worry, though, your tongues will be wagging as you spot your favorites. Swarovski, Zeiss, Leica, Kowa and Nikon were sure to get in on the product placement action!