Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Movie Birds – Charlie’s Angels

Pygmy Nuthatch

Movies that get their ornithology wrong appeal to the trainspotter in me. From nearly ten years ago, the bloomer in Charlie’s Angels still tickles. I'd only recently moved to California but even so knew that when Natalie (Cameron Diaz) exclaimed that a pygmy nuthatch only lived in one place, Carmel, I was definitely in Hollywoodland. Moreover, she had identified the bird from its song over a telephone connection.

For starters, few species in the world are restricted to an area as small as one town. Then, California really only has one endemic bird – the yellow-billed magpie, which is widespread throughout the Central Valley. To give the film’s researchers credit, pygmy nuthatch does actually occur in the state, but also in Oregon, Washington and as far east as Colorado.

What made the mistake more egregious was a previous shot of some very, very red bird supposedly representing the nuthatch; and as for the song... No, no, no, no, no. Although going to an earlier version of the screenplay on Daily Script suggests the source of this error and just how little the original authors knew about birds. In this, a good couple of pages before Natalie’s detective work, they introduce a bright red songbird, which she later, by sound, has to identify as...

A blue spotted egret?!?

Yeah, that needs a whole paragraph to itself. Then Alex (Lucy Liu) pins it down to Florida. If nothing else, this demonstrates the huge gap that can grow between script and final cut. Speaking as a wannabe film-writer, I say, “Don't shoot the author!”

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