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March of the Penguins
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by Aaron West

"Perhaps the best nature documentary ever made."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL. While watching March of the Penguins, I kept reflecting back to Jacques Perrinís Winged Migration. I found it to be beautiful, even mesmerizing at times, but a tough movie to watch in one sitting. Quite simply, it had no running narrative, so while it kept the eyes engaged, the mind drifted further behind, and eventually gave up. Penguins, on the other hand, at least equals Migrationís gorgeous cinematography, but has a fascinating story to boot. When all is said and done, the penguins trounce the birds in every way possible.

Every spring in Antarctica multitudes of Emperor Penguins come out of the water in order to march 70 miles to their mating spot. From there, they find a mate and spend the next several months in grueling conditions, trying to survive, and more importantly to them, keep their offspring alive. This new French documentary follows them throughout the entire 9-month mating period, every waddling step of the way.

Every documentary lives and dies on the strength of its subject material and that is especially evident here. Penguins are a peculiar and adorable species, plus they are mostly isolated from humanity. Unlike many animals, which we can see on television or the zoo, the most exposure humans have to penguins is Bloom County and Chilly Willy. Quite frankly, most of us are oblivious as to their nature. Not only do we learn something new here, but also we donít know the ending, so the directors are able to use devices to create drama and suspense.

Ironically, the natural life of penguins translates seamlessly to a 3-act structure, without taking any narrative license. The first act is, of course, the initial march and pairing; the second is enduring the harsh weather, and the last is the childbirth. There are plenty of occurrences in each of these stages that threaten the penguinís survival (conflict). The filmmakers harness these natural storytelling devices, and use them to great effect at creating a sometimes gripping, other times even thrilling narrative. The annual life of the penguins happens to be a terrific, even, inspiring story.

The production itself is nearly as impressive as the penguinís survival traits. The amount of access covered by the filmmakers is extraordinary, unfathomable even. The penguins have at least naturally adapted to their sub-zero surroundings. We can only imagine how it felt as human beings out in the bitter cold. As I watched, I was equally curious as to how they accomplished certain shots, especially those when the weather was at its worst. We see some brief clips about the production while the end credits run, but this is merely a teaser. This may be one of the rare cases where a DVD special feature ďmaking ofĒ could be as interesting as the film itself.

March of the Penguins is not simply a man standing with a camera filming penguins. They use a wide variety of shot selections that give us a universal look at the natural events as they occur. For instance, for some of the marching scenes they use aerial shots that show the magnitude of the journey. We can see hundreds, maybe thousands of penguins, sometimes appearing as small as ants. The photography isnít even limited to above ground. They capture the penguins underwater when they go to feed. At one point they even capture a predator sea lionís pursuit and eventual conquest of the less agile penguins. The amount of coverage is astounding, not just for Antarctica, but for any documentary.

Most documentaries, especially those that result from National Geographic funding, have specific, niche audiences. You know, the type of people who watch the Discovery Channel or visit their local zoo frequently. Due to March of the Penguinsí engaging storyline and the breathtaking cinematography, it appeals to anyone who loves watching a gorgeous story unfold. Not only will March of the Penguins likely end up as one of the best documentaries of the year, but it may be the best nature documentary ever made.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11299&reviewer=403
originally posted: 06/16/05 15:39:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/15/14 Peter M Great subject turned into sentimental nonsense. Three times over length 3 stars
3/22/10 John Wow! Talk about a grouchy review. For unemotional info, get a textbook, not a film. 5 stars
11/08/09 joel try's to make penguins look like humans 1 stars
5/21/09 Luis Alvarez Really boring. I ended up making fun of of the penguins "sadness." 1 stars
1/12/09 Anonymous. i learned alot about penguins watching this. 4 stars
1/21/08 deborah mclean ditto on what brian said 5 stars
6/18/07 Jessiika I really like it and thought it was great :D Penguins are cute hahaha 4 stars
5/22/07 isha boring more exciting please 1 stars
1/12/07 David Pollastrini they're cuuuuuute! 5 stars
12/06/06 chienne I work in Mental Health. Enough said. 4 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist An overrated mushfest,I dont understand why so many people adore it. 1 stars
7/28/06 David Cohen A brilliant antidote for the Disney "nature loves everyone" mentality 5 stars
6/30/06 Gerry Irons Amazing Filming-but thought it sensationalized penguins deaths-penguins die allot we get it 2 stars
6/12/06 millersxing Jacquet brings the penguins; Freeman brings the gravitas--and that's documentary gold. 4 stars
6/07/06 Peggy Doty INTERESTING 5 stars
6/03/06 michael Not just a kids movie either 4 stars
6/02/06 San Lamar i liked it 5 stars
5/26/06 lasharee davis It was very interresting 5 stars
4/29/06 Sheila Spectacular 5 stars
3/02/06 Tanya Beautiful, yet touching, I enjoyed it. great documentary 5 stars
2/24/06 PAG Overrated. Somewhat interesting, but no more than the average Discovery Channel doc. 3 stars
2/20/06 Anne Gallick I never suspected that the live of a penguin was so miserable. This movie is a cryfest. 3 stars
12/19/05 Martin I liked the penguins. 4 stars
12/10/05 Phil M. Aficionado Fascinating in all respects, and an astounding undertaking to film it. Beautiful too. 5 stars
10/19/05 Agent Sands Your obligated to see this if you're an animal lover like me. 4 stars
10/09/05 Jenny Chen A marverous movie 5 stars
9/09/05 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne ALMOST made me forget that Morgan Freeman twice co-starred with Trashley Dudd! 5 stars
9/08/05 John great story in eth tradition of the old Disney Nature documentaries 4 stars
9/04/05 Daryl Walker This is an adorable and fascinating documentary. 4 stars
8/27/05 jenjenmarie absolutely amazing. a true documentary that anyone can enjoy 5 stars
8/27/05 DM The kind of movie where you keep asking, "How did they get that footage?" 4 stars
8/24/05 Smitty Absolutely beautiful, see it in a theater, not on video, but a real bore-ass of a movie. 2 stars
8/24/05 Tom Benton As far as documentaries go, "March of the Penguins" is wonderful. 5 stars
8/22/05 chris. nothing i didn't know before, but i'm a nerd. i'm glad this gives a large audience a look 5 stars
8/20/05 flipst0oge it was so 1 stars
8/17/05 Ilana Sprongl Wonderful film about that most amaizing creature, the penguin. 5 stars
8/14/05 Mark This was the best nature documentary i have ever seen 5 stars
7/30/05 clinger26 You've got to see this documentary 5 stars
7/25/05 rachel fascinating! fabulous! intriguing! 5 stars
7/23/05 R.W. Welch Penguins outwit world's harshest environment. Nicely filmed and written. 4 stars
7/23/05 ajay wonderful story. everyone, yes EVERYONE should see this. 5 stars
7/22/05 Kristina Williams If only humans were so dedicated....... 5 stars
7/14/05 Jan K. A long way to walk with such short legs! 5 stars
7/13/05 Bill Joyner Outstanding Movie for everyone around the World. 5 stars
7/04/05 Brian Strilesky Eventually, as word travels, nearly everyone will end up seeing this amazing film. 5 stars
7/04/05 Ken Incredible movie. 5 stars
3/23/05 Rebekah Johnson Fabulous film! I loved it! Amazing footage and narration. 5 stars
1/26/05 lex Gidley Loved It!!! If it comes to America, it won't be a hit, but it is very entertaining. 5 stars
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  24-Jun-2005 (G)
  DVD: 29-Nov-2005



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Luc Jacquet

Written by
  Luc Jacquet
  Michel Fessler

  Morgan Freeman

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