March of the Penguins (2005)
In the vein of 2003’s Winged Migration, comes the newest nature documentary, March of the Penguins. A French film crew spent several months in the Antarctic and documented the mating habits of the adult Emperor penguin. Originally the film was told from a first-person point of view with the penguins narrating their lives. There was supposedly even a song by the baby penguins chirping for food. Eegads. Thankfully, the American distributor dropped this Milo and Otis approach, wrote some brand new third-person narration and tapped Morgan Freeman to voice it. Now that?s a step in the right direction. The results are a dazzling family-friendly documentary about birds that seem out of this world.
At a certain age, the adult Emperor penguins will leave their fishing grounds and begin their long march. No one knows how they know when and where to go, but scores and scores of penguins will travel hundreds of miles to a fertile breeding ground where the ice will be thick enough.
Once they’ve reached this spot the males must choose a female companion and then make with that hot penguin love. If the conception is successful the mamma penguins must now pass the egg off to the males. To do this both birds must keep their toes together the whole time. It doesn’t take much exposure to the harsh Antarctic elements to freeze the egg and null the penguin’s efforts. If this exchange is successful, the mamma penguins must now march 70 miles to fill their bellies with fish. They’ve given up fifty percent of their body weight birthing the egg and are literally starving to death. It’s now the daddy penguin’s responsibility to hatch the egg and guard it from the frigid temperatures until their mate returns. This perilous process will repeat until the baby is strong enough to be left on its own.
Throughout the many months, we watch the penguins endure incredible hardships. They begin by walking (or by waddling) hundreds of miles and then bracing temperatures as bitter as 80 degrees below zero. While the males carry the egg, they will go as long as four months without eating. The community will huddle together for warmth against the elements, and they even cycle teams out so that every penguin gets a turn in the center. The daddy penguins can pick out the voice of their baby even though they haven’t heard their voice since birth. Penguins are freaking awesome.
It’s amazing how characteristically human the penguins can appear. It’s striking to see penguins show affection for each other, from rubbing their beaks to craning their heads and pushing their bodies together. In one remarkable scene, we see the fields of penguins after most of them have decided on a mate. As far as the eye can see there are penguins pressed together in twos declaring their monogamous affection.
But these flightless birds also display painful emotions. After one strong windstorm, a mother penguin searches for her baby and finds it sprawled against the ice and dead. She starts poking the body at first but then lets loose a wail of grief. It’s remarkable how much you can feel for grieving penguins. We’re also told that, though rare, some mama penguins that have lost their little one will try and steal a baby.
The biggest draw of March of the Penguins is the wonderful photography. Covering the majority of a year, we see the entire mating and birth cycle in surprisingly candid and beautifully realized detail. It’s easy to get lost staring at the gorgeous images, from the vast and desolate Antarctic landscapes, to the long lines of hundreds of marching adult penguins, to the irresistibly cute and fluffy baby penguins (they look like stuffed animals come to life). This is what separates March of the Penguins from every day, run-of-the-mill TV nature shows, though National Geographic did help produce. The high-quality cinematography, absorbing story, and sheer adorability of the penguins make this a movie that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
March of the Penguins is also a perfect film for families. The plight of the penguins will be enough to ensure younger kiddies keep watching. The images will dazzle people of all ages and make you feel all warm and fuzzy, like a baby penguin. There’s great humor in watching these birds but there?s also great wonder. You’ll be surprised how often you may discover yourself narrating along; my favorite comment apparently was “Damn, that’s a whole lotta penguins.” What’s even more mysterious is that I didn’t care at all overhearing other people doing the same thing. March of the Penguins is an experience that also easily lends itself to viewer involvement, which makes it perfect for kids. There are some scarier moments when predators hit the scene but nothing that should be too traumatic.
March of the Penguins is a wonderful, heart warming, dazzling documentary that should charm audiences of all ages. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be amused, impressed, or delighted by the penguins and their fuzzy brood. The photography is amazing in its scope and detail, and you?ll want to take a baby penguin home with you (just look at that picture! Look at it!) This is a lovely and enchanting summer entry that should pick up steam as it picks up additional screens. Catch those penguins now before they march out of your town.
Nate’s Grade: B+