Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Big Year, Directed by David Frankel

I am not contemplating making 2012 be my "Big Year." Even if I was, I would not tell you. The odds of winning the race to see or hear the most bird species in a year are better if no one knows you are running. "Running" is the correct word. Competitive birders run for planes, run through money, and run toward the sound of a bird. That you will learn in the movie The Big Year, directed by David Frankel, loosely based on the 2004 book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik.

In the original book, Obmascik recounts January 1, 1998 to December 31, 1998, a year in which three men independently set out to break roofing contractor Sandy Komito's one year bird spotting record for the North American continent. One of the men was Komito himself. The others were successful businessman Al Levantin and insufficiently funded software engineer Greg Miller. Obmascik's book is a serious story with humorous overtones. Readers come away from the book learning how only a person willing to give up everything normal could do a Big Year. The movie stays pretty true to the book in spirit, though it plays for more laughter. You expect this with comic actors Owen Wilson (as Kenny Bostick), Steve Martin (as Stu Preissler), and Jack Black (as Brad Harris).

As a very laid-back birder, I found much to like in the movie. The scenery is great, and many real birds get walk-on (fly-on) roles in the entertaining story. The producers even worked with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to make the birding as authentic as possible, and all 745 birds spotted by the top birder are quickly shown during the credits. Of course, you don't have to like birds to like the movie. It's a romp across America with three funny men, one of whom pays a terrible price to win. Not yet available in DVD, but it will be popular when it is.

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