DVD Review: The Big Year

The Big Year DVDSTUDIO: Fox | DIRECTOR: David Frankel | CAST: Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Joel McHale, Jim Parsons, Rashida Jones, Angelica Huston, Dianne Weist, Brian Dennehy, Kevin Pollak, Anthony Anderson
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 1/31/2012 | PRICE: DVD $19.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $29.99
BONUSES: extended version; BD adds featurette, gag reel, 12 deleted scenes
SPECS: PG/NR | 100 min. | Comedy | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

A major studio movie about birding, the comedy The Big Year seems struck from the indie film template if not for the fact that it stars Jack Black (Gulliver’s Travels), Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris) and Steve Martin (It’s Complicated).

The Big Year

Steve Martin (l.), Jack Black (c.) and Owen Wilson look to the skies in The Big Year.

The three play hyper-competitive bird enthusiasts (not “bird watchers”) on simultaneous quests for a “Big Year,” in which they travel North America attempting to break the record for most species spotted in 365 days. The record holder is Kenny Bostick (Wilson), a smug ornithologist who deceives and sabotages others and runs “afowl” of his wife as he tries to break his own mark – while preventing others from eclipsing it.

Martin and Black’s characters, both in crises, are painted as being more enamored of the quest itself than the acclaim that comes with winning the Big Year. Black’s Brad Harris, in particular, is as interested in earning the respect of his disapproving father (Brian Dennehy, The Next Three Days) as the recognition itself.

Unfortunately, the big trouble with The Big Year is one of scale. While the story certainly lends itself to some humor, the three oversized comedic personalities go full-tilt when the quirky, esoteric plot demands subtlety. And the script just doesn’t support their efforts, with precious few laughs. Why hire three comedy icons and then muzzle them? Three unknowns, maybe including one with a British accent, would have done more with less given the material. Granted, The Big Year is based on a true story, but that’s never stopped Hollywood from concocting characters or playing with the facts before.

Appropriately, the best performances come from Dennehey, who exhibits irritation, pride and almost everything in between, and Rashida Jones (The Social Network), whose breezy, on-the-birding-fringe Ellie becomes Brad’s object of affection while tempering his obsessive nature.

Most of the movie takes place in natural settings, and the DVD serves them up with the vitality of an Audubon Society fundraising calendar. Strangely, for a movie about birds, we don’t see many colorful species, at least not in close up. One scene, though, of two bald eagles in a mating ritual, is breathtaking and looks like it could’ve been lifted from the BBC/Discovery Channel series Life.

The soundtrack never has the need to wow but is feathered with a nice selection of contemporary pop tunes (including Coldplay’s anthem “Viva La Vida,” always welcome) to complement lots of bird calls.

The DVD includes both the theatrical and extended edition of the movie, which runs about five minutes longer. That’s it for extras, however, the Blu-ray adds the featurette “The Big Migration” and a dozen deleted scenes, along with the extended cut.

The Big Year is a flighty piece of entertainment that will probably have mixed company smiling, but it could have soared much higher.


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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.