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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Big Year

January 31st, 2012

The Big Year - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

The Big Year bombed and bombed hard. It had the worst opening weekend for a wide release all year (although not the worst total box office). That really all you can say about the film. It can't possibly be as bad as its box office numbers, right?

The Movie

The film starts with some facts about birds before segueing into introductions of our three main leads. Jack Black is Brad Harris, a computer programmer, who just found out his ex-wife is getting married. He decides to get over this crushing blow by doing A Big Year, a competition to see how many different species of North American birds one can see in a calendar year. The current record is held by Kenny Bostick, who, over his wife's objections, is going off to defend his title. The final star is Stu Presser, the CEO of his own company, but who is retiring, again, to try and break the record. We also see how their families react to their attempts. Stu's wife is very supportive, to the point where he jokes she just wants him out of the house for a year. Kenny's wife is worried this will be the end of their marriage. While Brad's mom is supportive, his father thinks he's wasted his life.

We then see their early success, or lack thereof for Brad. In his defense, this was a spur of the moment decision for him, while he has to work weekends just to raise the money he needs to get started, but thanks to his keen ear, he quickly catches up. Soon, Brad, Kenny, and Stu meet up at Coos Bay, Oregon, where they all end up on the same tour boat. There's an instant friendship between Stu and Brad (at least there is till they learn they are both doing A Big Year) but Kenny's competitive nature gets on people's nerves. Also on that boat is Ellie a fellow birder with a talent for bird calls, and someone he runs into several more times during the year.

While they are trying to complete A Big Year, all three men have distractions. Stu keeps getting pestered by his two underlings over negotiations with another CEO that have stalled and if they fail, Stu's company could fail. Kenny's wife wants to have a baby, but obviously needs Kenny to be there for that to happen. Plus she wanted the house renovated in preparation, but Kenny blew that off to go on his hunt. Finally, Brad doesn't have the support of his father and when he runs out of money, he plans on giving up. Fortunately, his mother is supportive enough to get him going again.

For such an impressive comedic cast, The Big Year is surprisingly low-key in terms of humor. It does have some laughs here and there, but it is more of a sentimental look at three men in three different stages of their lives and one man's obsession and how much he's willing to pay to be the best. It's a rather tame comedy that spends more time showing the viewing audience beautiful scenery and birds than it does trying to make us laugh. This wouldn't be too bad, but it also spends more time on the scenery and birds than it does developing the characters. Kenny is a character Owen Wilson has played a few times too many in the past, and the same can be said of the other two leads, although not to the same degree. Jack Black is a little more grounded than his usual self. There is also a lot of familiarity with the basic plot of the movie that even the Birding can overcome. It's not a bad movie and there's enough here that works that it is worth checking out. In fact, arguably it works better on the home market than it would in theaters.

On a side note, using the "Unrated" label for the extended edition is faulty advertising in the highest order. The theatrical release is a PG-rated movie and I guarantee the extended version would be the same. In fact, not only is this faulty advertising, it's bound to hurt the film on the home market, as the target audience for the film are people looking for family friendly entertainment. The extended edition is only three minutes longer, but it is the better film, as the narration by John Cleese works a lot better than the narration by Jack Black.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD, although there are both versions of the movie. The Blu-ray includes a trio of extras, starting with The Big Migration, an 18-minute making of featurette that focuses on the locations shoots. There are also twelve deleted / extended scenes that run a total of seventeen minutes and six minutes of outtakes. The Blu-ray looks the best when we get to see the natural beauty of the film's many location shoots. We also hear plenty of bird calls and other ambient noise from the surround sound speakers during the film's most active moments. The Blu-ray Combo Pack costs 33% more than the DVD, at least on the list price. With the discount, the Blu-ray costs 100% more. The discount on the DVD is larger in terms of raw dollars.

The Verdict

The Big Year is much better than its box office record would indicate, but it is only a moderately good movie. There are no extras on the DVD, while the Blu-ray Combo Pack is overpriced by comparison. This adds up to a rental, but no more.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Big Year