‘March of the Penguins’ a fun movie for the whole family
August 3, 2005
When you get right down to it, how much do we really know about penguins? And, can you make a movie/documentary about such a topic and maintain the interest level throughout?
“March of the Penguins” is a fascinating look at a species of bird that doesn’t fly. It’s not often that one gets to see an entertaining documentary that is easily accessible to the entire family. When you add breathtaking cinematography coupled with a compelling, fact-based story about survival, you soon realize that no written script could capture what these marvelous creatures must endure. On top of that, add to the mix a narration by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman and you have the elements in place for a wonderful, big-screen experience.
And I do mean “big-screen” experience. If you wait to see this at home on DVD, you’re just cheating yourself. You will miss the full scope of the picture and lessen the drama unfolding before you. See it in a theater now because this is one fascinating journey of a movie.
“March of the Penguins” is a French production that was originally titled “La Marche de l’empereur” and translates well in this variation, because penguins really don’t need subtitles to explain their story. From the movie’s stunning beginning, “March of the Penguins” introduces the viewer to breathtaking views of Antarctica (thanks to cinematographers Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison), giving us a rare glimpse into the migratory habits of the flightless birds.
In many ways this documentary reminded me of 2003’s “Winged Migration,” which chronicled the hazardous migratory patterns of birds shot over the course of three years on seven continents. That, too, was a French production, but those birds had the benefit of flight. Imagine walking to your destination in the bitter cold.
Directed, written and based on a story by Luc Jacquet, “March of the Penguins” is a tale of survival. The penguins’ journey will take them to the place of their birth, across the frozen wasteland that generations of penguins have traversed before them.
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The movie cuts no corners as to the inevitable outcome for many of the penguins, and the cruel conditions their offspring must endure, but the story is told in such a matter-of-fact delivery that kids will be able to follow along with a minimal amount of concern. And let me stress, this is a fantastic opportunity to introduce your children to the wonders of nature without the video game effects to hold their interest. The story alone is more than enough to keep their attention focused. The screening I attended had a number of children present, and all were mesmerized by what was happening on the big screen.
Shot over a period of thirteen months by Jacquet and his crew, “March of the Penguins” works because of its simplicity. From the moment the Emperor penguins leave the relative safety of the ocean blue to begin their long journey to their mating ground across the frozen ice, the penguins’ sole goal is to continue what generations of penguins have done before: perpetuate the species.
Seeing these majestic birds walking slowly in a single file is really something incredible to see. They form this almost endless line of black and white, moving ever so slowly in the harshest of conditions. How they find their way across the frozen tundra is just an amazing feat that generations of penguins have done countless times before them. It’s as if they have this built-in guidance system that just points them in the right direction. And contrary to what one might assume, both sexes share in the raising of their young chicks, with the male being the first parent that the newborns will see. That is, if they can survive the bitter winter. The mothers, having transferred their egg to the father, must make the treacherous journey back to the sea so that they can bulk up on food, then walk back to join their mate in order to feed their young.
Complementing the stunning visuals and Freeman’s smooth narration, Alex Wurman’s pleasant soundtrack offers just the right amount of instrumentation that highlights the penguins’ highs and lows without taking away from the story at hand.
– Howie Nave is the host/emcee/manager of The Improv at Harveys Tuesday through Sunday nights. You can hear him on seven radio stations every Friday morning reviewing movies in northern California and Nevada, including KRLT in Lake Tahoe and KOZZ out of Reno. Watch him every Saturday and Sunday on Tahoe’s KMTN TV doing movie and video reviews.