March of the Penguins

Cast:
Penguins as Themselves
Morgan Freeman as Narrator

Summary:
A sumptuous documentary that leaves you wondering how they were able to capture such an amazing natural wonder on film.

Story:
Luc Jacquet and his crew spent over a year in Antarctica following the intricate mating rituals of the emperor penguin, a species whose ability to breed is hindered by the rigorous cold and snow of the area.

Analysis:
Penguins often steal the show at the zoo, on television and in movies, as they’re quite adorable with their short legs making every movement amusing and entertaining. The same might be said about the penguins in Luc Jacquet’s documentary March of the Penguins, although people will never be able to look at the cute critters the same way again, since it shows a side of them that few people ever get to see. Obvious comparisons to Winged Migration, another documentary about birds by a French filmmaker, aside, March of the Penguins is also a lot more focused, because Jacquet’s film is specifically about the mating rituals of the emperor penguins, a species that you’ll wonder why it isn’t endangered considering what they go through to have children.

The journey to parenthood begins with the entire flock traveling 70 miles to the spot where all of them were born on the southernmost tip of the South Pole. The spot picked is crucial because that’s where the ice is thickest and strong enough to hold the entire tribe for the months needed for them to procreate and incubate their egg into a new addition to the tribe. Since there are more males then females, they tend to get their pick, but that doesn’t mean that these couples formed out of necessity will have what it takes to survive their one chance at having offspring together. After the female has her single egg, she has to pass it in the freezing cold for the male to keep it warm, while she travels back the 70 miles to open water to find food. The males end up going without food for months, as they guard the egg from the cold and predators, and it’s quite devastating to watch a couple fail to keep their egg warm, because once they lose it, their chance at procreating is done until the next migration. The entire process takes almost a year, and the number of chicks that come out of the process is a small percentage of the number of couples that try to procreate.

This type of nature film is not very common anymore. In the past, they’ve been the realm of National Geographic and Buena Vista–both of whom were involved in the production–but more than many similar films, it makes you wonder “how on earth were they able to capture that on film?” Jacquet and his crew braved the same harsh weather as the penguins to stay with them through the entire ritual, something that allowed them get up close and personal with the birds even in their most private and difficult moments. That alone makes this film an achievement, but it’s also beautifully shot, really taking you to this seldom visited area of the world.

The film’s most impressive scene shows the female penguins swimming underwater looking for food before facing their most dangerous predator. Believe it or not, it’s a seal, but unlike the Sea World variety, these fierce leopard seals look more like something out of Jaws as they bear down on the penguins. The underwater cinematography during these sequences is absolutely fantastic.

Apparently, the original version of the film was dubbed with dialogue representing the communication between the penguins, accompanied by more whimsical French music. Wisely, that has been replaced with more poignant ambient music and a stirring narrative read by Morgan Freeman, who has the perfect voice to keep one riveted with eyes and ears glued to the screen.

Parts of the film are a bit scary and others are quite disheartening, like seeing eggs and baby penguins lose their battle with the elements and various predators, but it’s wonderful that the documentary received a G-rating, because it will allow parents to bring their younger kids, who will enjoy watching the cute penguins while learning what they go through to have babies.

Then again, the movie will make you wonder what these penguins do when they’re not mating or trying to care for their young. Maybe that’s something to consider for the sequel.

The Bottom Line:
March of the Penguins is an amazing nature film, showing a spectacular journey that both adults and children will be able to enjoy and appreciate for different reasons. It’s the type of educational film that handles its subject matter in such a fascinating way that you never feel like you’re back in biology class.

March of the Penguins opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, and expands into other cities over the course of July.

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