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March of the Penguins
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by Mel Valentin

"Who knew a documentary about penguins could be this engrossing?"
4 stars

Co-produced by National Geographic Feature Films and directed by Luc Jacquet, [i]March of the Penguins[/i] ("Marche de l'empereur, La") documents the compelling mating and rearing rituals developed over thousands of years by the Antarctica-dwelling Emperor Penguins. Shot primarily on film over the course of a year by Jacquet’s cameramen and collaborators, Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison, "March of the Penguins" is never less than engaging, never less than breathtaking in the intimate depiction of the icy cold wastelands of Antarctica, the southernmost continent, making it a near-perfect, family-friendly nature documentary. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Academy Award-winning actor and all-around man-of-gravitas Morgan Freeman stepped in to provide the voiceover narration for the English-language adaptation.

Antarctica: The coldest, windiest, driest continent on earth. At or around the age of five, Emperor Penguins leave the relative safety of the ocean, where they’ve lived and fed year-round, for the arduous, 70-mile, 100-kilometer trek across ice, snow, and rocks, to their ancient breeding grounds. They walk or rather waddle, usually in single file, day and night until they reach their destination. When they’re too tired to walk, they slide along their stomachs, propelled by their flippers. When they’ve reached the breeding grounds, they find a mate. These pairings only last for nine months, the time necessary for mating to occur, the female to lay an egg, the chick to be born and cared for, until finally, males, females, and chicks return to the ocean to live and feed.

The male penguin takes responsibility almost immediately after the female lays an egg. Having lost up to one third of her body weight in laying an egg, the female must journey back to the ocean to feed. The male is left to care for the egg, carefully nestling the egg from the cold on his feet and under a flap of skin. Even exposure of just a few seconds can be fatal to the chick. But as the days give way to weeks and the weeks to months, most of the chicks hatch. Some survive the brutal conditions, including snowstorms and blizzards. Some don’t. The males huddle closely together, their chicks between their legs, for protection. When the females return after several months, the males leave their chicks behind and return to the ocean to feed and regain their strength (by then they’ve lost up one-half their body weight).

The cycle continues, with females caring for their chicks until the males return. The males, in turn, return from the ocean, fat on a steady diet of fish, to care for their young. If the chicks survive the sudden snowstorms or the occasional predator, all three return to the ocean, but they each go their own way, cutting off physical and emotional bonds. The chicks gravitate toward a self-sustaining social group, eventually molting. Their fine, gray feathers are replaced with the black-and-white feathers typical of adult penguins. If, five years later, the Emperor Penguins have survived Antarctica’s harsh, unforgiving climate and predatory leopard seals, they’ll return to the breeding grounds where they born to find a mate and procreate.

March of the Penguins tells us this much over just eighty minutes. It’s enough, though, to convey Antarctica’s grandeur and the Emperor Penguins mystifying reproductive cycle, where for just one season at a time, the penguins become monogamous. Monogamy is a clever, as in evolutionarily clever, means to increase the odds that chicks will survive infancy and begin their lives in the ocean nine months after the reproductive cycle began. Of course, "family values" groups with have cited the Emperor Penguins for proof about the efficacy of monogamy. They’re partly right, of course, but taking it further risks the usual problems associated with anthropomorphizing a species that may have little else in common with human behavior or ignoring other species who act instinctively contrary to deeply held, but no less ideological, set of beliefs.

Monogamy aside, March of the Penguins engages in anthropomorphism typical of documentary filmmakers eager for audiences to engage whatever subject they’re examining on an emotional, visceral level and respond accordingly. In short, they, and that “they” includes Jacquet and his collaborators, want us to identify intimately with the subjects of their documentary, to understand a particular species’ often desperate struggle for survival and what, if anything, we can and should do to minimize our impact on the ecosystems they rely on to survive. March of the Penguins certainly succeeds in that regard.

What is a surprise, though, is that the original French version went further, literally giving voice to three penguins. Producers of the English-language adaptation smartly decided to tone down the anthropomorphism, hired Jordan Roberts to translate and adapt Jacquet and Michel Fessler's script for "March of the Penguins." Morgan Freeman to provide "March of the Penguins" with the offscreen narrator who gently guides us through the Emperor Penguins’ peculiar reproductive cycle.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11299&reviewer=402
originally posted: 07/07/07 00:00:00
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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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