The Big Year Review
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When I was a kid, I loved watching the different kinds of birds that gathered at our back yard bird feeder. I even kept a bird book handy, so I could identify the unfamiliar ones. Despite my childhood interest in the feathered friends who visited our yard, though, my interest never grew into a passion—as it did for the three men in The Big Year.

You won’t have any trouble spotting (or identifying) the comedians in this bird-watching comedy. Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black play a trio of dedicated birders who decide to embark on a Big Year—an annual competition to see who can spot the most species of birds in North America in a year.

Brad Harris (Black) is a divorced programmer who’s been dreaming of a Big Year his whole life—much to the chagrin of his disapproving father (Brian Dennehy). Stu Preissler (Martin) is a successful CEO who’s decided to retire from the corporate world to follow his passion for birding—if his employees will let him. They’re up against current world record holder Kenny Bostick (Wilson), who promised his new wife (Rosamund Pike) that he’d take the year off while she undergoes fertility treatments—but he just can’t allow anyone else to break his record.

As the three participate in their year-long quest, they all end up learning about more than just birds.

With its all-star comic cast and its amusing BBC nature doc-style narration by John Cleese, you might expect The Big Year to be riotously funny. But that’s not really the case. The film definitely has its funny moments—most of which come from Kenny’s constant grandstanding (and his talent for sabotaging his competitors)—but the film is more sweet than silly. While it’s lightly tickling your funny bone, it also sets out to tug at your heartstrings.

Meanwhile, a year-long birding competition definitely makes for an unusual premise—and it’s a pretty intriguing one, too. The competitors are constantly on the lookout for a good tip, always ready to pack up and travel anywhere in the continent with little or no warning. And they often find themselves in some pretty remarkable locations. Along the way, they also run into a flock of birding regulars—often eccentric characters who share their enthusiasm (or, perhaps more accurately, obsession). Still, the film has a lot of ground to cover, and some of the most interesting parts (and supporting characters) get lost in the shuffle.

Instead, the story focuses on the characters’ personal lives—on Stu’s struggle to escape the corporate grind, Brad’s search for both happiness and his father’s approval, and Kenny’s ongoing neglect of his wife (the latest in what appears to be a very long line of wives). While there may be plenty of lessons to be learned in the process, that doesn’t exactly make for a fun-filled comedy.

The Big Year is a pretty tough sell: a heartwarming comedy about birders. But it’s both quirky and quaint, and it’s good for a few easy-going, heartwarming laughs. Just don’t expect a whole lot of birds—or a whole lot of high-flying hilarity.

Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of The Big Year includes DVD and digital versions of the film, as well as theatrical and extended versions on Blu-ray. Despite the fact that there are two versions of the film squeezed onto the Blu-ray disc, though, there’s still a little bit of room left over for some extras.

The disc also includes an amusing (and surprisingly lengthy) gag reel, as well as a dozen deleted scenes, featuring a little more on the history of the Big Year, plenty of John Cleese, and a lot more of Kenny’s conniving. There’s also a fascinating behind-the-scenes feature, The Big Migration, which follows the cast and crew during their 55-day, 100-set, 14471-mile filmmaking adventure across Canada and the States—from LA to the Yukon to Times Square to the Everglades. And, if that’s still not enough, you can connect your Blu-ray player to the Internet to watch more features through BD Live.

The film’s extras are all pretty entertaining, but if you’d like to see a little more about the film’s locations, I recommend setting aside 20 minutes or so to watch the making-of feature. It’s sure to give you a whole new appreciation for the movie.

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