The Big Year, starring Owen Wilson, Jack Black and Steve Martin opened up yesterday, in most theaters nationwide. Most of the time, when I go to see a movie, I have a pretty good idea what I’m getting myself into well before I arrive at the cinema. I thought The Big Year would be a comedy in the mold of your typical Steve Martin film. Well, as it turned out, I had no clue as to what this film was even about, not even remotely. This movie turned out to be for the birds. No, literally.
Before seeing this movie I never even heard the term Birding before. I had no idea that there is this culture out there were people would flock to locations all over the continent, all for the opportunity to watch birds. Sure, I heard about bird-watching before, who hasn’t, but to the extent that people would travel all over the place, in a semi-organized, competition, well that was well beyond the scope of any knowledge I had about bird-watching.
But as it turns out there is such a competition and it’s called The Big Year. Birders from all over dedicate a year of their lives to travel all across North America, all to see as many different species of bird they’re able to. It really was quite interesting to watch, as rarely does a film come across where I’m actually learning about something new the entire time.
The film has a documentary type feel to it at times, which really aids in the experience of realizing all the various “hotspots” birders travel to, and of course all the names and habits of many of the birds as well. You also get an excellent look into what sacrifices and choices that many of these Big Year contestants go through in order to partake in the competition. You see the high points, that exciting moment of physically viewing a rare species. You get to see friendships that can form from meeting other like-minded people. You get to see the negative aspects as well, from those who try to get a leg up on their completion, the negative light non-birders cast upon them, the loneliness of being away from your life for an entire year, and many of the harsh conditions these birders go through, just to hopefully get a glimpse of some special birds.
Aside from the birding environment, which is really the reason to go see this film, this film is about three men who enter the completion, and the things that go on in their lives, and how these external influences either assist or inhibit their birding efforts. Each of the men come from different backgrounds, which is interesting in that, regardless of background, this activity becomes a symbol of unity and equality.
There are a few major points in regards to the messages scripted. The main one is that the most important thing about competition, is to enjoy yourself while you’re doing it, but also to savor all the extras that an activity, or life for that matter, can, and often does provide.
It illustrates this point by showing a seemingly life-long friendship formed between Martin’s character with Blacks. We see Black’s character grow closer to his previously disinterested and disappointed father, and we see a love-relationship that never would have happened if it weren’t for his passion for this activity.
Martin’s character watches his life move from overworked CEO of a major company to a life where things are much slower paced, one that he can, and it does take him time to realize this, savor the important parts of his life, one of which is family.
Conversely we see Wilson’s character, the reigning “Best Birder in the world,” and how his success basically consumed who he was. He is constantly afraid that someone will overtake his record and because of this possession he winds up losing out on what was most important to him, life.
There’s a lot to like about The Big Year. You have three pretty decently drawn stories revolving around the three leads and how Birding has changed their lives. You have some brilliantly shot footage, of course of birds, but also the environments of all the various locations these characters travel to. The cinematography truly is outstanding, as is the great detail provided about the nature of Birding itself. From the various species and their habits, they show how people can actually learn from the behaviors and instincts of birds, to the competition itself, which granted I came into this completely ignorant of it’s existence, but even so, it did a great job of teaching, where even those experienced in birding should learn a few new things about the activity.
The film may not be for everyone though. If you’re the type of person that instantly changes channels when scrolling past NatGeo or Discovery or the type that isn’t into watching splices of individuals lives, and how different people react and are changed by various stimuli, then you probably wouldn’t care too much for this film. But if your like me, and love learning, and enjoy the brilliance and beauty that nature has to offer than you should enjoy the film. And the dramatic parts of the film are fine, which for me, was nothing more than a bonus in this case.