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Lions Gate presents
Rare Birds (2001)

"Who are they going to call? The bird police? Interbird?"
- Alphonse (Andy Jones)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: July 03, 2002

Stars: William Hurt, Andy Jones
Other Stars: Molly Parker
Director: Sturla Gunnarsson

MPAA Rating: R for language and drug use
Run Time: 01h:41m:05s
Release Date: May 28, 2002
UPC: 031398802525
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Rare Birds is a movie that takes a great concept and then bogs down by going in a completely different direction about halfway through. Both halves of the film are entertaining in their own right, but the mix just doesn't work; both parts end up feeling rushed and underdeveloped.

In "part one," William Hurt plays Dave, a man whose life is falling apart as quickly as his business. His wife has just left him, and his restaurant, The Auk, a remote diner built on one of the bluffs of Newfoundland, is in danger of closing (despite the wonderful food). Dave's eccentric and paranoid friend Alphonse (Andy Jones) comes up with an idea to save the place, though, encouraging Dave to call in a fake sighting of a very rare breed of duck to a radio talk show. Soon, the area is overrun with birdwatchers, and business at the diner is booming, requiring the hiring of a new waitress, Alphonse's beautiful sister-in-law Alice (Molly Parker).

The early parts of the story are enormously engaging. Hurt gives a remarkably funny deadpan performance (particularly when he is making his white-knuckled call to the radio program). Andy Jones is twitchy and fast-talking, which I suppose is the Newfoundland version of manic; regardless, he is a very charming comedic foil for the deadpan Hurt. Molly Parker very nearly illuminates her every scene, though her screen presence has a much to do with the direction as her acting, as director Sturla Gunnarsson does everything but smear Vaseline on the lens when Alice is about.

The scheme with the fake duck (which is in danger of being proven a hoax) and Dave's blooming relationship with Alice are more than enough material to craft a memorable, whimsical picture. But in adapting the source novel, screenwriter Edward Riche has trouble integrating the "part two": Alphonse's building of a personal submarine vehicle (like an ATV for water enthusiasts) and his constant fear that the people from Winnebago are trying to steal it. By the end, when the army rolls into town and gunfights and explosions ensue, the picture has gotten totally off-track. The material is amusing, to be sure, but it feels as if it is from a different film. Granted, the quirky novel makes for a difficult adaptation, and certainly the more off-the-wall elements are essential to the narrative there, but on film, they just feel to forced and abrupt.

Despite its narrative glitches, though, Rare Birds is still admirable for its regional charms, memorable characters, and the beauty of the Newfoundland landscape. A lightweight trifle, goes down easy (with mint sauce and chardonnay).

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Rare Birds' low budget shows up onscreen with an image that is a tad gainy, but still pretty strong. The breathtaking natural scenery comes across well, with a lack of artifacting or video noise showing in the shots of the choppy waters of Newfoundland. Interior shots look rich and warm, if a little soft. Black level is strong, though shadow detail is only fair, with some night scenes looking rather murky.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The DD 2.0 mix is fairly nondescript, but I suppose it fits the film well enough. Dialogue is a bit difficult to understand at times, as much for the accents as for its placement low into the mix. The score expands the front soundstage nicely, as do the winds whipping past the shoreline and the waves crashing against the rocks. However, surrounds remain inactive throughout and low end is noticeably lacking, even during an explosion towards the end of the film.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Monster's Ball, Lantana
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Sturla Gunnersson, director of photography Jan Kiesser, first assistant director Alex Papas, and friend Eddie Wilde
Packaging: Scanavo
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Production Artwork Gallery
Extras Review: Rare Birds has only one extra of note, a commentary with director Sturla Gunnarsson, director of photography Jan Kiesser, first assistant director Alex Papas, and "friend" Eddie Wilde. It's a fairly good track, as commentaries go (believe me, I've heard my share of bad ones), with most of the comments coming from the director in response to questions from his friend Wilde, who apparently is there for just that reason. There are a few production stories sprinkled throughout, and lots of technical details, and the result is a laid back, casual discussion that ends up equally informative and entertaining.

Other extras include a brief production artwork gallery with both computer-generated and hand drawn set designs, and trailers for the feature, Lantana, and Monster's Ball (just highlight the Lion's Gate logo on the main menu).

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Though Rare Birds overloads on quirk with a miscalculated final act, it remains an enjoyably fluffy character-driven comedy. The beautiful Newfoundland landscapes don't hurt either. Worth a rental, and the DVD is nice enough to warrant a purchase by fans.


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