Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Movie The Big Year is a Big Dud!

The movie The Big Year was released 2 weeks ago, but since I was in Italy, I was not able to see it until this afternoon. I have been looking forward to seeing it for several months because I had read the book, I know one of the birders on which the book is based, and naturally because I have done a big year. What a huge let down this movie proved to be!

My wife watched it with me and generally liked it. She asked me if I had not read the book would I feel the same way, and my answer was yes. So why am I so disappointed?

First, Mark Obmascik who wrote the book did a very good job in delivering the story of the 1998 big year experience of Sandy Komito, Al Levantin, and Greg Miller (who I know). He did such a good job that Ben Stiller bought the movie rights, and decided to make it into a comedy hiring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black to deliver the script written by Howard Franklin. The fact that it was to be a comedy had many birders concerned about how we would be perceived, but my opinion after seeing it is that we have nothing to be worried about.

Second, the movie right from the start says that it is based on a true story but some of the facts have been altered--boy were they! If you had not read the book maybe you might have liked the story line better than I did, but the changes did not improve the story as far as I was concerned. For example, the Greg Miller character was the birder he was partly because his father was a birder. But for the movie they decided that he and his father needed to not see eye to eye on his birding passion. This is just one of several script changes that seemed unwarranted.

Third, the story is about 3 men's passion for birding, but the birding part of the movie was so inaccurate that it was laughable. The director clearly had no sense about birding--what it feels like, how birders actually act in the field. The descriptions of the birds were often poor. The locations of some birds like the pink-footed goose and great gray owl were absurd. And for anyone who has not read the book, the Owen Wilson character who was Sandy Komito in the book, never found his big year nemesis bird--a great gray owl. The movie decided that it would be a snowy owl, and suggested that he finally saw one on Dec. 31st. By the way, as I sit typing this blog entry I am listening to a great horned owl hooting outside my window.

Fourth, I don't think I laughed more than a couple of times during the movie. The book had its funny moments, but the movie and these 3 successful comedian actors just were not funny.

Finally, having done my big year last year, I feel very qualified in saying that this movie did a very poor job of capturing what it really feels like to do a big year. It certainly tried with all the dates and place captions printed on the screen, but in the end it was only a shadow of the real thing.

An indication of the overall failure of/lack of interest in the movie is that after its first 10 days it had only sold $6 million in tickets. It was shown on 2100 movie screens around the US which means that it was averaging about $300/day/screen which equals only about 40 viewers per screen. This afternoon there were only 7 customers at my showing. I just checked and saw that it is not in any of our local theaters after tomorrow--a measly 2 week run!

On a better note, John Vanderpoel continues to rack up birds. After his 4th trip to AK this year where he saw oriental turtle dove and McKay's bunting, he is now at 729 birds for the year with 2 months left to find more rarities. With 2 easy birds still to get, he should move into 2nd place all time for the full ABA area before the year is over, and just might even get close to Sandy Komito's record of 745. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pelagic Photos from Doug Koch

As promised in my last post, I have received a few photos taken by Doug Koch last month on several pelagic trips off the coast of northern CA. The photo just above shows Doug sitting in the middle with the black knit hat with his camera in a white plastic bag trying to stay warm. Sitting to his left is John Vanderpoel, and standing up facing towards John is Steve Howell one of the premier pelagic birders in the world.

We saw lots of shearwaters on our trips including the sooty above (click on any photo to enlarge), and the pink-footed just below.

We also had good looks at buller's shearwater shown above. The gull highlight on these trips was the sabine's gull in the photo below.

Since mid September when these photos were taken I have not been able to bird because of a bicycle accident that left me with a broken left collarbone. I have learned that this is the most often broken bone, and 90% heal without any surgical intervention. You keep your arm in a sling for several weeks and the broken bone "finds" a way to mend itself even when the broken ends are not real close together. This has slowed me down a bit in general, but I am still heading off to Italy today for a 2 week vacation to celebrate a good friend's 60th birthday.

While I am off partying, John Vanderpoel will be continuing his full ABA area big year hunt for more birds. He is now at 726 and has 2 easy birds still to see. With reasonably good luck this fall he could reach the mid 730's--an extremely successful big year effort that would move him into 2nd place all time.

Finally, the movie the Big Year is opening this Friday. It is based on the book the Big Year about the adventures of 3 birders who did full ABA area big years in 1998. It stars Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Steve Martin, and is being billed as the best adult comedy of the year. I will be seeing it as soon as I return from Italy. My review of it will be my next blog entry. Stay tuned!