I don’t think this is anything new but I’ll say it: Birds are rarely depicted accurately in movies.
I’m not even talking about the usual, “oh that eagle/vulture/every hawk sounds like a Red-tailed Hawk,” I’m talking about watching a film set in Minnesota and hearing a Tawny Owl, watching something set in Africa or South American and hearing a Kookaburra or watching a bunch of cowboys around a fire in the desert and hearing the lonely wail of a Common Loon.
But sometimes a movie surprises us. I’m kind of late to the Hobbit movie party and I’m only politely attending at that. I like the sci fi/fantasy genre but the Hobbit has never tripped my trigger. I couldn’t get into it as a book or cartoon as a kid. I think it’s a combination of already having gone through Lord of the Rings and getting tired of books being male centric, but that’s a different topic for a different day. But my sci fi loving husband insist I give it a go on Netflix so here I am typing a blog entry for 10,000 Birding wondering how on earth I’ll survive two more movies of this epic snail.
However, one thing caught my attention.
Wizard Radagast is running through the woods and a bird comes up to him:
Hey-o, that’s an American Robin flying up to our boy. Not only that–its sound effect as he chirped was total American Robin! Since these things are filmed in New Zealand, I would have guessed they’d use a New Zealand bird but hey, the fact that they used the state bird of Wisconsin and even dubbed it over with the actual call totally impressed me. My husband took me to task for not getting mad that it’s not a New Zealand bird, but I said, “Hey, it’s Middle Earth, anything goes species-wise there.”
P.S. The Hobbit ruins the bird goodwill by having the Giant Eagles at the end scream like Red-tailed Hawks. Come on, Peter Jackson, Golden Eagles or Wedge-tailed Eagles don’t sound that bad do they? Sigh.
How about you, what birds have been surprisingly accurate in movies?
In the movie “a 5 years engagement”, I was positively surprised when I heard a wood thrush in one of the scenes played in the woods. Action takes place in Michigan, so the range is completely all right, and the bird song is unusual enough that I was pretty thankful of the effort to include that song in the movie.
Only issue, of course, is the action takes place during the deer hunting season, and that no wood thrush is supposed to be there at that time of the year, or even sing at all anyway.
I remember reading that go-away-birds recorded in Entebbe Botanical Gardens in Uganda ended up being used as a substitute for monkeys and chimps in cinema for years.
Apocalypto and the Cattle Egret some 500 years before they have discovered the New World comes to mind… Also Enemy at the Gates and the wrong crows on corpses, Carrion instead of more eastern Hooded ones…
Embarrassed to even mention the name of the movie-Charlie’s Angels–but pygmy nuthatch was a painful stretch.
@david: yes, yes! The hand-clapping Cameron Diaz exclaiming “ouuuh, pygmy nuthatch” while they showed some oriole (if memory serves me right, which it might not as I tried real hard to forget this movie) was one of the low points of this movie – which is saying something!
I have no movie reference to contribute, I’m just delighted that bird appearances or calls caught your attention enough to decide whether or not they were accurate AND that you would even remember the name of the movie!
Haha, we just saw the (abominable) Lone Ranger and they added crow sounds to beautiful shots of a raven in flight. Then again, one of the consolations of being a birder is that you’ve got something fun to do while sitting through a bad movie!
Its so terrible that its much more remarbable when they get anything right at all. I cringed at the crow call when the raven was flying in the (agreed not so great) Lone Ranger as well. One instance where it pretty much ruined an otherwise good movie for me was Blood Diamond. Its supposed to take place in Sierra Leone (probably filmed in South Africa I am guessing) but all the bird sounds are standard U.S. eastern forest birds. The calls of Black-throated green warblers are especially and continually apparent, it was completely distracting to me and lowered my enjoyment of the movie.
For a long time Savannah Sparrow and Mourning Warbler were part of the sound track of every outdoorsy TV commercial. I haven’t heard either one for a couple of years now- not on TV anyway.
“The robin feathering his nest” in the “Just a Spoon Full of Sugar” song segment in Mary Poppins (from the early 60″s, with Julie Andrews) is an American robin too.
Birdchick, so glad you posted this, because it irritates me to no end when the sound doesn’t match the image (cf: Colbert Report). About the Red-tailed Hawk specifically, my ex was (and presumably still is) a recording engineer, and he pointed out that’s one of the standard Foley sounds that movie/TV sound folks go to. Here’s a neat thread on the topic with way more examples: http://soundandthefoley.com/category/red-tailed-hawk/
Actually, there’s one I wanted to ask Jochen about: do you Europeans get Song Sparrows? A few weeks back, we were watching a special screening of a movie about the sesquicentennial exhibits of artist Edvard Munch’s work, and ever time they did a re-enactment of old-timey Norway, that Song Sparrow was chittering away. Would that bird really be up around the fjords and boreal forests?
@Meredith: A song sparrow in Norway would certainly cause a massive pan-European twitch, with listers from all over Europe flocking to Norway to add it to their WP list. There are records from Europe, but it is an incredibly rare vagrant.
I can’t say much about the presence of song sparrows in German movies as I am not so familiar with North American bird songs anymore (it’s been 6 years now that I last visited the US). However, I very often don’t recognize the bird songs in movies that play in Europe, which essentially means they are not songs from European birds.
Hey, I just noticed that no one has mentioned the classic yet:
Macaws in Tarzan movies!
Get Low with Robert Duvall struck me as remarkably accurate. I think all of the bird sounds were appropriate.
@Jochen: Thanks for the confirmation. The movie I saw was made by Brits, not that that’s any excuse since Song Sparrows don’t really visit the UK either. 😉
@Meredith: maybe including a “yank” bird song was wishful thinking on the side of a British birder-gone-moviemaker! 🙂
Liked the movie “Failure to Launch” where Zooey Deschanel’s character is being tortured by a late night singing Mockingbird. Then bonds with the guy who helps her deal with her problem. They end up becoming birding partners later. Nature of all types plays a supporting role in the film.