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DVD Review: The Big Year

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Who knew that bird watching, or “Birding” as it’s called by those who pursue it, was a cutthroat pursuit? We have quite a few birds in Colorado, but I have to admit that beyond knowing the difference between some of the birds of prey (Red-Tailed Hawks have red tails!) I’m pretty uneducated as far as the different species locally, let alone nationally or internationally.

That said, The Big Year (released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, January 31, 2012) is as much about educating people about the birds as the people who follow them. Narrated by John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python’s Flying Circus), the film shifts between “documentary” mode and regular “movie” mode with the characters in motion. The film stars Steve Martin (The Jerk, Father of the Bride), Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda), and Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers) as birders all pursuing “The Big Year” – a year-long quest to spot as many different bird species in a single year. And each of the characters comes from a different place in their life.

Black plays Brad Harris, a character in his 30s at a crossroads. In a job he hates with a string of failed relationships, he’s passionate about one thing – birds. Can he complete a “Big Year” and get some self confidence back?

Martin plays Stu Preissler, a character at the end of his career pondering retirement and enjoying time with his family and hobbies like birding. He keeps getting pulled back into the business he built because it “won’t survive without him,” which interrupts his retirement plans over and over again.

And Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, a character with multiple failed marriages and another one dying on the vine. He has to choose between his wife who wants to start a family and staying at the top of his game with the most bird species spotted in a single year.

This trio of birders manage to explore some of the most gorgeous parts of the country – Florida, Alaska, East Coast, West Coast, they really racked up the frequent flier miles. Beautiful scenery and bird footage (both real and CGI) along the way make it as much a travelogue as anything else.

Along the way these folks interact with some very colorful characters played by an all-star cast. Joel McHale (TV’s Community) and Kevin Pollack (Red State) play lawyers from Martin’s firm. Jim Parsons (TV’s Big Bang Theory) plays a blogging birder who writes about encounters with other birding aficionados. Angelica Huston (50/50) plays the captain of a tour boat that caters to birding expeditions. Brian Dennehy (The Next Three Days) and Diane Wiest (In Treatment) play Black’s parents who eventually understand their son’s passion. Anthony Anderson (Scream 4) plays Black’s boss. Rashida Jones (TV’s Parks and Recreation) plays a fellow birder who Black pursues romantically.

Though I enjoyed the film, I can see why this film didn’t do very well at the box office. The trailers portrayed it as more of a comedy and it ended up being a dramedy/documentary mix with a few comedic moments and a lot of character drama. With three big-name comedic actors in the movie and little comedy I suspect that word of mouth may have killed ticket sales.

That said, I think this film on DVD, Blu-ray, and on demand will get a fair amount of play. The great cast and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) worked well to tell three intertwined stories and explore the realm of bird watching in a fun way.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with the lack of special features on the DVD. Two versions of the film were included – the theatrical version and the extended version. The Blu-ray seems to have many more features, including a Gag Reel which I would have liked to have seen on the DVD.

Overall, I recommend The Big Year to anyone looking for a bit different viewing experience. The great cast, beautiful scenery, and a bit of education makes the film work great.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!