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Why Jack Black’s binoculars matter

October 14, 2011

If you’re a birder, you know about the Hollywood adaptation of Mark Obmascik’s birding travelogue The Big Year. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several weeks – or you’re participating in a Big Year yourself – you know it opens nationwide today.  I am, as are you no doubt, planning to see it if for no other reason than to see the hobby that I love portrayed on the big screen.  There’s something affirming about that, not that I feel like I need it or anything because I would bird regardless, but the the idea that there are those out there that think enough of what we do that they think they can make a buck at it with the help of some legitimate A-list Hollywood stars is… well.. it’s strange is what it is, and early on I think we were justifiably wary of this project.  But I’m not anymore, I’m just going to roll with it.

There will no doubt be inaccuracies.  And pratfalls.  And the cursed double barrel binocular view that seems to show up in any on-screen depiction of a binocular’s field of view.  And there is, of course, the worry that the crazed and obsessive side of birding would be glorified over the pastoral and zen aspect of bird-spotting that we all enjoy the most.  These things will annoy me, or at least I thought they would.  But I came to a decision when I saw the very real excitement many in the birding community had towards the idea that we, or at least some recognizable cipher, would be big screen heroes, to not let that bother me.  So I’m letting it go.

Yeah, the previews focus a lot on the three stars, and the buddy aspect of their journey.  And well it should, you don’t put Steve Martin in a movie and fail to market Steve Martin.  Same with Owen Wilson and Jack Black.  They are in movies for a reason and The Big Year would be an epic failure, I mean a giant money pit, if not for them.  And major Hollywood studios don’t make money pits, with the possible exception of Battleship: Earth, and that was mostly to make the scientologists happy.  I only wish birders had that kind of clout.  So get over it.  Movies, particularly comedies, are about the people, their journeys and their relationships.  Birding is a backdrop.  Enjoy that backdrop.

So what if it doesn’t accurately depict our weekend journeys into the field.  Folks, I know this is going to come as a shock to some of you, but that stuff is boring.  It would make a terrible movie.  Hell, it would make an awful documentary.  Birding is not something you watch, it’s something you experience.  And if watching this movie leads some interested folks to grab an old pair of glass and head out to the nearest bird club walk then we come out on top. Jack Black pratfalls or no.

It’s interesting to note that I’ve seen many previously skeptical birders come around to this way of thinking.  I think we’re generally of one mind on how to use this serendipitous bit of free advertising to our advantage.  I know the people I correspond with at the American Birding Association are pretty excited about it.  And why not?  Big Years have ABA written all over them.

Will there be birds in incorrect places?  Probably.  Will there be the sort of uncomfortable mocking of the Tilly hat and zip-off pant set? Undoubtedly.  We can take it folks, because we love birding and no amount of gentle ribbing is going to change the fact that we get to see amazing things nearly every time we step outside our door.  And if the movie can capture that wonderful part of birding, that fantastic mix of awe and camaraderie, than I’m confident we’re gonna make out pretty well.

And even if we don’t, and the movie tanks, we’ll have a free bit of advertising every time it’s re-aired on basic cable.  And that, friends, is money in the bank.

  1. October 14, 2011 7:49 am

    This was very thoughtful and well-written and made me more excited than ever before to see the movie! I hope it exceeds all of our expectations 🙂

  2. October 14, 2011 1:03 pm

    I went to the midnight screening last night. Very surprised. It is a good movie and it is full of accurate birds. There are a few little things here and there but totally forgivable and I would recommend the movie to anyone. I thought it would be a movie about the people and the birds would get the back seat. That is only partly true. It IS a movie about the people and their relationships but the birds and birding play an really important, prominent and well portrayed role.

  3. October 14, 2011 4:16 pm

    Very well said, Nate. Great post. And I really do hope you have fun at the movie.

  4. October 17, 2011 11:55 am

    I couldn’t agree with you more! As long as birding gets some time in the spotlight, nothing but good can come from it. Hopefully more people will get interested in birding- not to mention my Birder Murder mystery series!

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