March of the Penguins Movie Review

From a distance, the tuxedo-colored penguins waddling, single file, across the expansive Antarctic ice in March of the Penguins look eerily similar to stubby, slightly unsteady Manhattanites trudging to and from Grand Central Station commuter trains at the end of a long workday. A loving ode to the life-altering (and at times life-threatening) dedication and devotion of parents toward the conception and protection of their children, Luc Jacquet's breathtaking and surprisingly sweet documentary intentionally anthropomorphizes its pint-sized subjects, utilizing stunning footage of the animals in their natural habitats to highlight the similarities (emotionally, if not literally) between penguins and humans. Far more moving, modest, and efficient than 2003's somewhat similar Winged Migration, this small, quiet gem about parental fidelity has an understated grace and touchingly sentimental soul that's aided by the director's astonishingly intimate, up-close access to his flightless subjects.

Shot over thirteen months by Jacquet and expert cinematographers Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison (during which time the crew lived, without respite, in the Antarctic), March of the Penguins finds beauty and poignancy in simplicity. Though released in its native France with humorous, slightly surreal dialogue for its penguin protagonists and Emilie Simon's Björk-esque music, this American release instead opts for Morgan Freeman's elegant, understated narration and Alex Wurman's pleasant score, both of which work in tandem with Jacquet's stunning images to make clear the similarities between bird and human culture. Its narrative is an uncomplicated one, tracing the arduous yearlong procreation process during which hundreds of penguins (led by the leader-of-the-line male emperor penguins) travel 70-plus miles to a solid stretch of ice. There, they engage in an amusing courtship dance to find a desirable mate, a routine that can end in romantic beak-to-beak snuggling or, in certain cases, female-on-female violence when a bitchy femme attempts to steal an already-taken man.

Once paired up, the couples embark on a grueling ordeal in which the males and females alternately brave the frigid winds with no shelter and little food while taking turns traveling back to their native habitat, where they can gorge on fish that will eventually nourish their kin. Tending to the baby is a delicate endeavor rife with hazards, since adults must protect their precious eggs (and, later, their vulnerable babies) from touching the ice by cradling them on top of their clawed feet and against the warm flaps on their stomachs. The resulting portrait is often tender and sometimes tragic, and the filmmakers' refusal to sugarcoat the harsh, fatal realities of life only further amplifies the majestic wonder of seeing hundreds of penguins collectively huddle together in order to shield themselves (and each other) from the whipping wind. Though Jordan Roberts' scripted narration can occasionally become too cloying, Freeman's velvety voice carries the endearing film through any minor rough spots. And regardless of such negligible missteps, this patient, graceful nature documentary ultimately thrives not on the back of its sounds but, rather, on the awe-inspiring sight of the animals' inherent, ritualistic ability to persevere, thrive, and love amidst severely inhospitable environs.

Cast & Crew

Director :

Starring :

Comments

March of the Penguins Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: G, 2005

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