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Birding on the big screen in “The Big Year”

the-big-yearFinally, Hollywood made a movie about birding. After months of talk about this film in birding communities, “The Big Year” made it to the silver screen in mid-October. In case you haven’t heard about this ionic film, it’s an adaptation The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession; a book written by Mark Obmascik. The book is an account of three birders who attempted to break the ABA Big Year record in 1998. These extreme birders were Al Levantin, Greg Miller, and Sandy Komito and they raced against each other to beat Sandy’s old record of 721 species. At the end of the year, Mr. Komito set a new, amazing record with 745 species.

As one can imagine, the process, adventure, luck, determination, funds, and sheer madness associated with attempting such a feat were a story waiting to be told and many birders would agree that Mark Obmascik did a great job of telling it. He covers many of the avian highlights and describes sacrifices made by the main characters to get target birds but the heart and endearing core of the book are the portrayals of Sandy, Greg, and Al. In doing so, he provides insight into the mindset of the competitive and obsessive birdwatcher. So, the book has been enjoyed by both birders and non-birders alike but what about the movie?

Well, by all accounts, it sounds like the film has had far less appeal. While the thousands of birders who have gone to the theater to watch a depiction of their favorite hobby have generally enjoyed the movie, the much, much larger non-birding segment of the population have been much less enthralled with the film. Most critics describe it as being mediochre at best and even downright boring. Indeed, before watching the film, this was their primary concern and for most, it unfortunately came true. They apparently did not find competitive birding to be as comical as the Fox Film Company expected it to be despite having three successful comedic actors play the three main characters.

Steve Martin plays the part of Stu Preissler (the character based on Al Levantin), Owen Wilson portrays Kenny Bostick (the character for Big Year record holder Sandy Komito), and Jack Black plays Brad Harris (aka Greg Miller). This well known cast makes it clear that the company that made “The Big Year” was expecting a much higher degree of success. These actors have demonstrated their ability to generate laughs and appeal in a number of previous films but it doesn’t seem that this was enough to win over audiences who watched this one and only comedy about birding. Sure, most birders in the audience appreciated and enjoyed the movie but perhaps that was to be expected. This may also point to why it had less appeal for non-birders. “The Big Year” might have focused a bit too much on competitive birding rather than delving deeper into the three main characters and allowing them to be be more comedic. Whatever the reason, by all accounts, it sounds like you need to go and see this birding movie now because it’s not going to last much longer at the theater.

I think everyone should make their own mind up, I personally am a huge Steve Martin fan and will be going to see this any day now and can’t wait.  Let us know what you think of the film?

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