Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Big Year Blu-ray Review

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presents the story of a competitive trio who quickly turn a simple quest into the ultimate competition in The Big YearSteve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson portray three men from very different walks of life, facing a mid-life crisis, a work-life crisis and a no-life crisis.  In the biggest competition of their lives, they undertake an unforgettable trek through North America, engaging in hilarious and bizarre adventures and forming friendships that will last a lifetime!  Directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada, Marley & Me) and featuring outrageous supporting performances from Joel McHale (“Community”), Jim Parsons (“The Big Bang Theory”), Angelica Huston (50/50), Dianne Wiest (“In Treatment”), Brian Dennehy (The Next Three Days), Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation”), Kevin Pollak (Red State) and Anthony Anderson (Scream 4), The Big Year Blu-ray is loaded with special features including the theatrical and extended editions of the film, over 40 minutes of deleted scenes and the featurette “The Big Migration.” 

Film (3 out of 5 stars)

As a concept this movie might have sounded pretty good.  A movie that stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black all competing with each other to win a title should be a home run.  But when the competition involves birdwatching or rather "birding" as they prefer to call it (kind of like the difference between Trekkies and Trekkers), the idea doesn't seem as fun.  Even with a fantastic supporting cast that includes Kevin Pollack, Joel McHale, Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams, Angelica Huston, Rashida Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, Anthony Anderson, and Steven Weber, even they can't help.  With the bulk of the movie about some guys who journey across America just to see or hear a bird, even if that means losing a wife and the possibility of having a child, or their life savings, or even the control of their company, these guys are willing to accept that and more which puts them at odds with the majority of moviegoers.

Steve Martin plays Stu Priessler, a corporate bigwig who retired once before returning to run the company he left and now who is planning to retire again to pursue his passion of birding.  His underlings played by Kevin Pollack and Joel McHale hound his every step as they continually try to convince him that he can't retire and the consequences that will occur if he does.  Even though there is a merger between Stu's company and a competitor in the works, Stu wants nothing to do with it.  His wife Edith (JoBeth Williams) and him have already built a remote retirement cabin and he can't wait to participate in the Superbowl of birding activities called "The Big Year" which is a contest where participants tally the amount of birds they've seen (or heard) and whoever has recorded the most wins the contest.  It's based on the honor system which you'd think would invite tons of abuse but at least for this movie, it doesn't seem to be a problem with the exception of one person.

The reigning champion of The Big Year is Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson) who has been called a birding machine since he puts it above everything else in his life - including his wife Jessica (Rosamund Pike) who is taking injections to improve their chances to have a baby. Jessica has put up with Bostick's passion for years (and far more than most wives would have) but even her infinite patience has limits. Jessica starts trying to get Bostick's attention by remodeling the house against his wishes and hiring his building company's competitor to do the work, but that doesn't faze him for long.  Even when he promises to be at her side for a medical treatment, when he's told about a rare owl, he leaves the hospital he just arrived at to see the owl without seeing his wife.

While Bostick is content to through his life away to follow the birds, Brad Harris (Jack Black) doesn't have a life to throw away.  Divorced and living at home with his parents, Brad spends his time working extra shifts to save up for his birding vacation where he plans to see as many birds as he can in one shot.  He's saved up $5,000 and his mother (Dianne Wiest) has planned out his itinerary.  His father (Brian Dennehy) thinks birding is a huge waste of time and money and criticizes Brad's life choices constantly which has caused a lot of friction between them.  Brad's mom believes in him and she gives him money to help him fund his trip.  She thinks Brad's ability to recognize birds by their chirping will help him win the contest.

The three of them come together during their travels since the birders all follow the birds wherever their are the most concentrated.  A huge storm could result in hundreds of sightings of birds forced off their usual flight path which brings out the birders.  Stu and Brad are in awe of Bostick and attempt to copy what he does until he starts faking them out to stop them from following him.  Over the course of their constant travels, Stu and Brad form a close friendship and the wealthy Stu starts to help Brad financially and they team up to take on Bostick. The rest of the movie follows the three of them as they chase all manner of birds across a variety of environments and weather conditions. By the end of the movie, all three of them will have to decide what's important to them between birding and the rest of their lives.   

This movie had a lot of good ideas and a great cast, but it couldn't pull it all together enough to make this as good as it could have been. The story of three men at turning points in their lives - one having to decide between work and his family and hobby, another with his wife and the possibility of having a child, and another that has no life who has to decide if he wants to continue pursuing birding as his all-encompassing passion or to enjoy life with someone in his life.  I will say that at least one of the characters makes a somewhat unformulaic choice which adds a bittersweet edge to the ending but is a fairly realistic occurrence outside of the movies.  The three main stars are all excellent in their roles and I especially liked the friendship between Stu and Brad that was very believable, but too much time was spent on the birding plot and not enough time on the characters.  I'm convinced that if the three had been competing for something other than a look at some birds, this would have done better and the box office and probably would have been a better movie.  But it's entirely possible that the birding angle may have been what drew this stellar cast together in the first place because it is so different and unexpected.
Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (2.35:1) transfer is much like the movie, decent but should have been better.  The movie was shot on film and there's a lot of grain present which can be a little distracting during some scenes.  Colors are decent but the picture's clarity is hit and miss with some scenes looking very sharp and others soft.  Flesh tones are natural and consistent and the black levels are deep and inky with strong contrast present.  This isn't a terrible transfer,  but it is somewhat surprising to see one this unrefined in this day and age.  One would think that a big studio film would look better than this. 
Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The Big Year's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also good but nothing to write home about.  Being a comedy (about birds no less), I wasn't really expecting a powerhouse audio mix, but I think they could have done better than this.  This is a front channel concentrated mix which is fine since it's mostly a dialogue driven movie, but don't expect a lot of action from the rear channels.  Every once in awhile, the surround channels provide some ambient noise but it's not as often as I would have liked and not as enveloping as a movie that takes place in nature could have been.  The dialogue is clear and understandable and Theodore Shapiro's score is balanced well with the rest of the film, but I wish they had made more of an effort to create a more immersive mix.
Extras (3 out of 5 stars)

There isn't a whole lot of extras on this disc which is too bad because it could have helped the final score of the movie.  The good news is that the ones that have been provided are in high definition.
  • The Big Migration - This almost twenty minute look at the production's castr and crew journeying across America to film on multiple locations is the best extra on this disc.  It's interesting and pretty funny especially when the main cast are interviewed together.  This is what audiences wanted to see!
  • Deleted Scenes - A little over seventeen minutes of deleted scenes that wouldn't have added much to the movie although one of them might have changed part of the ending if it had remained.
  • Gag Reel - The usual screwing up of lines and fooling around which is enjoyable if you like these guys like I do.
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital Copy
Summary (3 out of 5 stars)
This is a cute movie that could have been a lot better with all of the talent involved.  The cast is all good in their roles and there are some good elements to the movie like the friendship between Stu and Brad, but it never reaches the heights one hoped for with this cast.  This Blu-ray resembles the film as it is also decent but could have had a better presentation across the board.  If you are a fan of the three main stars, there's a good chance that you will enjoy watching the movie, but this isn't the kind of movie that most would want to see over and over again.

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