The Big Year is maybe one of the most forgettable movies to feature such a talented cast in recent years. I would argue the same for The Tourist, but I have much more hate associated with that movie (Tower Heist is on the right track though). The Big Year has the combined talents of Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson, yet the movie is way too bland to be entertaining. There is nothing egregiously wrong with the film, besides being a film full of comedians, but not full of laughs, but what it does provide is insight into the hobby/obsession of “birding” along with some light family-related drama. It is certainly not an insultingly bad film, but the subject matter really only appeals to a specific group of people and the pleasant nature of the film is not enough for it to coast by for others to enjoy.
As mentioned, The Big Year stars Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson as three amateur bird watchers, who compete to become the ultimate “birder”. This involves spotting the greatest number of species of bird within a single calendar year (and the truth is held up by an honor system). Each of these men are in different places in their lives. Jack Black plays Brad Harris, a divorced man, working a boring job, with hopes of possibly having “A Big Year” to turn his life around. Steve Martin is Stu Preissler, the CEO on the verge of retirement, who wishes he could spend a lot more of his time “birding”. And Owen Wilson is the current record holder for being the ultimate birder, who is cocky enough to keep at it, in order to preserve his record, much to the chagrin of his wife (Rosamond Pike). The film revolves around these men exploring various areas of North America, finding bird species, and also encountering each other, which fuels possible rivalries. The men also discover more about themselves amidst the hijinks that supposedly ensue.
The best thing I can say about the film is that every character seems committed to their role. I have no idea about whether Black, Martin, Wilson, or any of the other supporting characters (of which there are many stars in bit parts throughout) have any actual interest in birding, but no one seems to be sleepwalking through their part (at least not too obviously). For audience members that are birders, I can easily see how this film would play well for them. It does not make fun of the sport/hobby of birding like a broader film would, certainly going the route of being respectful towards it. Really, if it were not for some very specific problems, this would be the ultimate film for birders and a way to possibly get at the interest of others who have a newfound higher opinion of it. However, that’s just not the case.
The main problem is that The Big Year just isn’t very funny. Despite having a very strong comedic cast, the movie does not seem to be very concerned with making anyone want to laugh. Even a more humble approach to comedy is lost here, as the film either relies on very simple gags or jokes that I would imagine only play well for the crowd with a vested interest in the film. Really, the film plays out more like a subdued, family-oriented drama, with each lead character facing their own life crisis of sorts. Wilson is at odds with his wife, Martin is on the brink of retirement and becoming a grandfather, and Black has trouble relating to his father. Separately these could be dramas of their own, but they are pushed into this supposed PG “family comedy”. Not even John Cleese’s narration throughout the film was enough to keep a smile on my face.
The film was directed by David Frankel, who previously helmed The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me. The screenplay was adapted from Mark Obmascik’s novel The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, by Howard Franklin. The result just feels misguided. While the film does not attempt to poke fun at birding, perhaps a mockumentary approach, similar to something like the Christopher Guest films (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman), could have made this concept more entertaining to watch. That style may have been able to get away with poking a small amount of fun at birding, but still reflect what makes it unique.
I can see why this film flopped huge for 20th Century Fox. The subject matter is ideal for such a specific audience that the interest was clearly not there for everyone else. Even with a top notch cast, The Big Year did not inspire many to want to spend their time with it. I certainly can’t blame them. The film means no harm, but being a pleasant look at the joy of birding, at least for this film, does not seem to have what it needs to supply a fun watch.
The Big Year’s Blu-ray presentation is not much to get high hopes for, but at the same time, it looks good enough. Despite being set in a number of different locations, outdoors, so the characters can be amongst great scenic backdrops, as they look for birds, the film still feels pretty plain. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is enough to bring out good enough textures and make the colors seem apparent enough, but it is the lack of anything to make the film truly standout that basically keeps the video presentation from feeling more significant.
I have pretty much the same regard for this Blu-ray’s audio presentation. The Big Year’s most notably sound qualities may come from Cleese’s narration. There is a pretty uneventful soundtrack throughout this film and it is of course mostly dialogue driven, beyond the odd birdcall here and there. Still, a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is never a bad thing to equip a Blu-ray disc with. The mix feels solid enough, with the dialogue, ambient sounds, and score all registering as clear. But once again, there really isn’t much to brag about for this disc.
Not a whole lot of extra features on this disc, but at least the few pieces of bonus content are all presented in HD. Additionally, the film itself has an extended version, which is a few minutes longer than the theatrical cut. The Blu-ray allows seamless branching between both versions.
The Big Migration – A pretty straight-forward behind the scenes look at the film.
Delted Scenes – Nearly 20 minutes worth of deleted footage. It is unsurprisingly not very funny.
Gag Reel – My problems with the film aside, at least it looks like people had fun making it.
Theatrical Trailer and other Sneak Peak
The movie that very few people saw in the fall of 2011 will probably remain the film that no one will want to see. The Big Year was a harmless box office flop that suffered from having a big name cast, but a lack of true appeal for audiences all over. The cast and crew may have had a good time making the film and I would imagine there were thoughts that birding would finally be done justice on screen and accepted by audiences all over, but unfortunately the film is too plain to really appreciate on much of an entertaining level.