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Sienna's Totally Eloquent and Super Analytical Movie Review: The Big Year

Hello, I'm Sienna "Sharp-shinned" Hawk. While previous articles from have covered bird-themed baby names, inaccurate field guides, and bird codes, this article tackles a new topic. Movies. Read on, as my broad range of expertise continues to surprise and/or disappoint everyone as I take on a movie review.

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The Movie: The Big Year

This is sort of two reviews in one. I first saw this movie just after I started getting into birds, and I just watched it for a second time recently. Watching this movie with no birding knowledge vs. watching it now (with approximately 25% more birding knowledge) makes for a different viewing experience.

Before I begin the review, let me explain what a "big year" is. A big year is an attempt by a birder to see as many species of bird within a calendar year. Big years can happen at any geographical level, but for this movie, the focus is on the ABA continental area which is essentially North America north of Mexico (minus Hawaii). In fact, there is an official list of Big Years for the ABA, tracked by NARBA. Click here for that list.

Synopsis of The Big Year

The Big Year follows the journey of three skilled American birders, each doing a Big Year and attempting to break the record of 732 birds seen in North America in one calendar year. Brad Harris (Jack Black) works full-time as a programmer in Baltimore, Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is a successful CEO in New York, and Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) is a contractor and holds the current Big Year record of 732 birds. The movie is based on a nonfiction book, The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, written by Mark Obmascik but filmmakers created new characters for the adaptation.

The first time I watched this I had no idea that this hobby could be so competitive and intense. I had only heard of a handful of the species mentioned in the movie, and I could identify even fewer. By the end, I wanted to do a big year. I wanted to learn every species by sight and sound, and romantically travel North America with binoculars in hand.

Watching it the second time still made me want to do a big year, but this time I was also hit with the crushing realization that I can't even identify all the birds in the movie and that I cannot afford to go on my grand quest unless I meet a rich CEO that will buy me shrimp scampi and take me on helicopter birding rides to chase Himalayan Snowcock.

There aren't any crazy plot twists or groundbreaking new concepts and ideas, but it is still a solid movie. It is also incredibly wholesome and ends on an upbeat note. The movie won't make you cry unless you start looking at prices for a trip to Attu Island...

The Cast of The Big Year

This movie has Jack Black, Steve Martin, John Cleese, AND Owen Wilson. That should be enough to make you say...

The Birds of The Big Year

I'm not going to pretend to be an expert and point out inaccuracies of the birds and their locations in the movie. Birding is already confusing enough, just try to enjoy the movie and turn off your pedantic birding brain for a while, if that's even possible.

Aside from some...interesting CGI, I enjoyed the bird footage. There are many bird species seen and mentioned in the film and cinematography can be gorgeous. The main characters travel all over North America to many different habitats and regions. I definitely appreciated the birds more during my second time through the film, when I had some knowledge of the majority of the birds in the movie. I think most of the species went over my head the first time through. Someone who doesn't have any birding knowledge or interest in the hobby would probably find most of the movie to be the same boring scene, over and over again.

I also want to make a point of saying I also have seen a Pink-Footed Goose, in December, in Colorado. That basically makes me Jack Black himself.

My Rating for The Big Year: Upland Sandpiper

Welcome to Flocking Around! Where my competence doesn't matter, and the ratings are made up.