Monday, October 3, 2011

A Birder's Apprehension to The Big Year

I am a little bit protective of The Big Year. I picked up the book randomly in an airport in 2004 and it was my first introduction to the sport of birding. 6 months later, after buying an old Peterson guide in a used bookstore in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the flip was switched and I have been birding every single day since. I credit the book with introducing me to what would become a life's passion.

So I should be beyond thrilled that the movie version of The Big Year will be coming to theaters in just a couple weeks. A movie about birding! With a great cast! So why am I - and, if I'm judging the temperature of the birding community correctly, most everyone else - so apprehensive about the film?

Cups out!  For birders, the devil may be in the details.
Well there are a couple reasons.

1. We don't want to look like idiots. Let's face it, birders are ripe targets for parody. We're an eccentric bunch, and many of us regularly tuck our pants into our socks. Hollywood loves an easy target, and we birders are afraid that the movie will skip over trying to legitimize our passion and just skip straight to calling us dweebs. The book, for its part, did a great job respecting's hoping the movie does too.

2. They're going to get a bunch of stuff wrong. Being a birder makes you watch movies differently. A cowboy in the American West sits sketching a passing Augur Buzzard - a bird native to Africa. Bobwhites sing in South Africa. We've learned to tolerate the "regular" world's ignorance of bird ranges (though I still think it's hilarious), but can we put up with it in The Big Year? Birders are already grumbling that a Swainson's Hawk appears on a snowy mountainside in the trailer. Jack Black's eye cups aren't out in the poster image, shown above. Birders may fall victim to their own expertise and end up being distracted by the very movie that they should enjoy.

3. Big Year Bump? The Navy said that enlistment went up 500% after Top Gun came out. Thousands of kids took up martial arts lessons after watching Karate Kid (I was among them). Is the same thing going to happen to folks who see The Big Year? It's an interesting question. On the one hand, it'll be great for the sport to get more interest and exposure. On the other - and I'll be totally honest here - I feel a little bit of that same resentment that music fans feel when a band they've been into for years suddenly hits it big and gains a wider fan base. I'll be cranky if parking lots are clogged or trips are filled. It's illogical and it's counterproductive, but it's a real feeling.

I'm excited for this movie, especially after the release of the most recent clip narrated by John Cleese. For better or for worse, birding is about to get a moment in the sun. Let's hope my apprehension is unwarranted.


Anonymous said...

Movie was good! I'm a casual birder, not hard-core, and I loved the film. They throw in a lot of cool bird details while keeping the story grounded with a strong story and three interesting character arcs. Lots of good actors even in the smaller roles. As far as birding goes, I can't think of another movie that does it more justice.

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