Review: Netflix Nature Documentary ‘Bird Box’ Is a Fluttering Failure

As a professional movie pundit, cardinal (ha!) rule #1 is to lead the reader through the review process. Much like a symphony with three movements, you steadily build your case, culminating in a satisfying, vibrant conclusion. Note that I did just that in my review of the disappointing romantic comedy Zero Dark Thirty.

In life, there are times you just have to be direct — yes, those pants do make your butt look big, or no, Hillary, you’ll never be president. This feels like one of them, so I won’t sugar coat it: Bird Box sucks. The only “movement” I’d compare it to is that of the bowel variety.

The reasons — unlike the birds — are plentiful, but let’s start with what Susanne Bier’s fluttering failure could have been.

Successful documentaries

Planet Earth debuted in 2006, bringing us stunning shots of wildlife throughout the world. The BBC miniseries did not focus on birds, but incredible avian images were nonetheless captured. For those who managed to miss the fun (and don’t have their Net Nanny filters set to block the word “mating”), here’s a taste:

Five years later, the outstanding Frozen Planet (directed by no-I’m-not-a-butler Alastair Fothergill) showed us again how documentaries should be made. The nine episode miniseries was eerie and beautiful, perhaps best described as “repetitive” in an review.

Witness the pretty lights, as narrated by David Attenborough:

Finally, there is Farce of the Penguins. Released in 2007, the documentary cleverly imagines what penguins might be like if they could talk. Notice the lively interaction between What’s Global Warming Penguin and Hey, That’s My Ass Penguin.

These nature documentaries are Exhibits A, B and C of the maxim that certain things don’t improve simply because time marches on. Sadly, Bird Box is proof of that statement.

‘Bird Box’ is popular, but so what?

In the era of reality television, a quirky theme is a virtual imperative. I’d rather be naked and afraid than watch Discovery’s popular Naked and Afraid. Thousands of bearded pacifists tuned into IFC’s defunct Whisker Wars. TLC’s cancelled Honey Boo Boo attracted millions who didn’t care that it had little to do with Yogi Bear’s dim-witted husband.

Dim-witted, indeed. Bird Box, with more than 45 million views, is (as the kids say) “like, totes popular”, in part because of a clever premise. As I say, it’s the least bitchin’-est nature documentary I’ve ever seen, and here’s why.

No narrator

David Attenborough possesses a soothing, drunk-in-a-good way voice that chronicles what’s going on in Planet Earth while being only mildly condescending to the viewer. The U.S. version of Frozen Planet employs Trump-impressionist nut job Alec Baldwin, out (of jail) and proud as narrator. Speaking of nuts, Farce of the Penguins is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, who — unlike Attenborough — only once argues with the wildlife.

In short, all good documentaries have narrators. Where’s the voice-over in Bird Box? Hopefully, that glaring omission will be corrected in the director’s cut DVD.

Sandra Bullock is mean

Perhaps Sandra Bullock was initially slated to be narrator, but the documentary’s opening moments suggest she would have been ill-suited for the role.

Preparing to float downstream on a relaxing bird watching adventure, she bizarrely kidnaps, blindfolds and threatens her own children. It’s an educational opportunity for young, impressionable minds, not a trip to Chuck E. Cheeses!

Furthermore, she doesn’t seem to care about the birds she’s observing, paying scant attention to any except those she’s cruelly trapped in a cardboard box. Do you really want CPS, SWAT and the ASPCA on your doorstep, Sandra?

Where are the birds?

Riddle me this, genius: outside of the trapped birds, how many birds did you actually see in Bird Box? Until the all-too-brief finale when a million of them idiotically fly into the netting, not nearly enough. It’s a nature documentary, for cripes’ sake!

On the plus side, the blind colony will have plenty to eat tonight.

Nobody watches birds while blindfolded

Have you ever seen birdwatchers wearing blindfolds?

Of course not! Birds do more than fly around in circles, mate and crap on your car. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors (sometimes in eleven herbs and spices), but you need to open your eyes to see them.

As an example, the following is a high resolution, close-up photograph of a rare Brazilian toucan in the wild.

Bird Box
Native to Brazil, the toucan was strangely absent in Bird Box.

We know the toucan wasn’t in Bird Box, but do Sandra, her children or the many other birdwatchers that die throughout the documentary? No, because they either had blindfolds on or went crazy and killed themselves first. Talk about an unnecessary and pointless plot diversion.

Ease up on the deaths!

Everyone understands shooting raw footage in the wild carries potential risk to life and limb. Tragically, Steve Irwin died while filming a documentary, and in a little-known event, Marlin Perkins was nearly taken down by a pack of lions in what many believed to be revenge for all the snooping and spying.

Those incidents are child’s play as compared to the carnage in Bird Box. Perhaps hallucinogenic drug usage was rampant among the cast and crew, but whatever the reason, please, edit them out! It’s distracting and mildly upsetting to the viewer. Furthermore, it simply doesn’t enhance the bird watching experience one bit.

My rating

I could go on and on, but you get my drift. Bird Box spends way too much time on meandering plot threads, with not nearly enough screen time devoted to birds. As a result, although at times the movie flaps its wings semi-energetically, it never once takes flight.

I expected far more than that. Farce of the Penguins, your place in the pantheon of epic nature documentaries remains safe. Bird Box, you deserve — and receive — my lowest possible rating.

* star




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