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Wednesday, May 03, 2006


“Hoot” (screenplay & direction by Will Shriner, based on the book by Carl Hiaasen), rated PG and hitting theaters May 5, contains all the expected elements of a classic children’s adventure: bullies, heroes, secret hideouts, and goofy comic relief. Three teenagers come to the defense of the burrowing owl and its young ones in the imaginary town of Coconut Cove, Florida. The threatened bird, native to the area, inhabits the future site of Mrs. Paula’s Pancake House and is itself a threat to the developer on the verge of becoming the first regional director of the corporation to build 100 pancake houses.

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Undergirding the story line is a young adult’s struggle to fight for good in his own life, which is turned topsy-turvy by his father’s umpteenth job change and relocation in six years. Forced to “start all over” (new neighborhood, new school, new friends) the boy-becoming-man is given a fresh look at himself and rises to the challenge of becoming more of who he really is.

Inspiring? Absolutely. Realistic? Well… Hollywood seems to have managed to make a fairytale out of a greater global issue - humans dominating the earth without regard to the very things that make the earth work; except they gave theirs a trite and happy ending. Don’t let me spoil the movie for you. Allow me to lead you down a rabbit trail and challenge your worldview for a moment. Then we’ll get back to the review.

Think of the most beautiful place on earth, close to nature and far away from your problems. As soon as you are there, your soul feels endless and your spirit feels light. (Hoot’s cinematography will help with this one if you need it.) Most of us, though, have no difficulty imagining our favorite natural space. The paradox of our modern society is that we appreciate such locales and their inhabitants mostly only when it is convenient to us. Those fantastic vacation getaways and natural areas are “supposed” to be there, but what about places that have no apparent usefulness to humans and seem the perfect spot for that next pancake house? Or your house?

The world is a huge ball of seemingly endless resources, all put here for our use. Many ask, “What’s the big deal about taking up more space? So what if we eradicate one more bunch of four-legged creatures? It’s all here for us to use, isn’t it?” The big deal is our lack of visionary planning. Structures and developments are built namby-pamby, with little consideration of future impacts. We are slowly cutting ourselves off from the things that bring life and it stems from our lack of a basic understanding of biology. So let’s go back to the birds and the bees (um, not those birds and bees.)

We can all probably agree that our earth was created in a very complex and wonderful way. The basis of its fantastic ability to operate is this: everything and everyone is in community with another. We are not islands and cannot survive on our own. Nature abhors loneliness as well as a vacuum. Why else would we see herds, flocks, schools and swarms, not to mention villages and cities? There is strength in numbers and in the diversity of those numbers. When we begin to eliminate that diversity through actions that cause unbalance, the earth’s ability to function at its very best is diminished.

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Sited often, the Biosphere II project, a late 20th century effort to emulate biosphere I (the earth), is a helpful illustration. Notable efforts were made to establish diverse flora, fauna and everything needed to sustain the group of scientists who would dwell in the larger than life greenhouse for two years before coming out. The hope was that a success would determine the human race’s ability to survive anywhere in the universe, a lofty and noble goal.

After a positive and high-spirited launch of the project, things took a turn. After just a few months, the plants and animals in the biosphere began dying off. The air became stale and made some of the scientists very sick. It seemed unfathomable that this could happen and the scientists had to make up for the losses by removing excess carbon dioxide and pumping in extra oxygen. Why?

The unbalances in plant and "bug" life and their activity caused oxygen levels to plummet, affecting everything up the chain. Remember the premise that we all live in community? Any significant unbalance in any system causes problems. We're all familiar with the phrase "too much of a good (or bad) thing..."

OK, back to the review -

A movie that will appeal to families, “Hoot” displays the community premise, from the teenagers banding together in a common cause, to the family coming around their son’s struggles to adjust to a new life. In the end, the community of Coconut Cove gathers to witness the teetering fate of the burrowing owls. Kids will definitely enjoy the youthful interactions and comic capers throughout.

The plot may or may not draw one in, the characters and their relationships are somewhat superficial and some of the acting is just plain bad. Again, reality is not a high priority in the scheme of production. This is entertainment.

However, Jimmy Buffet’s appearance and music add to the film’s genuine Floridian feel and makes one want to jump through the screen into beaches and inter-coastal waterways. The director and producer support their pro-environmental message with a montage of the state’s gorgeous terrain and wildlife as they depict the teenagers discovering the wonders of it all.

At the very least this movie is a heroic effort to open the eyes of the unaware and uncaring to consider how we impact each day the little patch of earth we inhabit. We can make decisions to come to the aid of the least and the weak for the greater good. I know from now on “owl” be more aware. Hopefully you will too. And that’s something to hoot about!

*Review by Josie, Collective Miscellany


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