The Good: Beautiful directing, Good voice-overs, Well-researched, Entertaining, Interesting
The Bad: Pacing, Does not use medium exceptionally
The Basics: Detailing the incredible mating cycle of the emperor penguins, March Of The Penguins is an impressive documentary for all ages.
When I went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (reviewed here!), I was disappointed by every preview but one. All of the movies being previewed were either computer animated messes where the preview revealed the entire movie or obvious children's fare. Except one. The preview for March Of The Penguins actually looked intriguing and decent enough to watch. Perhaps that is why I was happy to go see it when it was released in theaters a short time later.
March Of The Penguins is a documentary focusing on the extraordinary lengths and rituals Emperor Penguins go through to mate, spawn and nurture their young. Over the course of an especially brutal winter in Antarctica, emperor penguins meet and migrate to their traditional mating grounds. Once there, the penguins go through an involved process of finding a mate, mating, and keeping warm. The females produce an egg and pass it off to the males, who are then responsible for keeping it warm. The female penguins then make a long sojourn back to the ocean to get food, leaving the males to huddle in freezing weather. The eggs hatch, the females return, the family has a limited time together before the starving males go off to get food.
This is, of course, an oversimplification. While March Of The Penguins is eighty-five minutes long, this is much of what happens in a simple, unembellished way. The reality is far more impressive and genuinely epic in scope. The penguins are charismatic, they have personality and while the narration may anthropomorphize them some, their connections and relationships are easily defined as love. The extraordinary feats of loyalty and endurance make the emperor penguins an intriguing study.
To that end, there is not much to do other than put the penguins on screen with a voice-over to explain what is happening. Like most National Geographic documentaries, the writing is straightforward, leaving most of the work of explanation and embellishment to the visuals. Morgan Freeman narrated March Of The Penguins and he does an excellent job.
A lot of credit must go to the documentary's director, Luc Jacquet. Jacquet gets some fabulous footage of the emperor penguins. Perhaps the most impressive footage involves the birth of the eggs, where the females lay an egg and pass it to the male. This process happens once from any couple and Jacquet manages to capture it perfectly from more than one couple. As well, the director managed to get decent footage of the fathers feeding the newborns and of predators preying on the penguins.
While the footage that is presented is impressive for its content, there is little in March Of The Penguins that is visually dazzling. To that end, March Of The Penguins does beg the question, why is this in theaters and not on PBS on a Sunday evening? This is an entirely portable production and while it is nice to see the penguins twenty feet tall, it is hard to imaging that there would be a fundamental change in this movie if it were only on television or a movie at an aquarium. In short, there is little about this documentary that screams "You MUST see this on the big screen in order to truly get the effect or understand it!"
That said, I am very glad I saw the movie. It was educational and strangely inspirational. The devotion of the penguins to their families makes one think that our problems as humans might not be insurmountable. The film is well-cut, well-lit and the explanations for the visuals are well chosen and easily understood. Anyone who enjoys learning, biology or a decent documentary will likely enjoy The March of the Penguins. Anyone who needs their faith in the universe and its intricacies restored should take in this movie.
This is a good documentary and it's a shame that more people aren't out enjoying it.
For other documentaries, please check out my reviews of:
"Anatomy Of A Homicide"
Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?
The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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