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March of the Penguins (G)

Cast: Morgan Freeman

Release Date: June 24, 2005

Runtime: 1 hr. 24 mins.

Genre: Documentary

Emperor penguins overcome daunting obstacles in order to return to their breeding grounds for mating season. This tells the story of one year in the life of a flock -- focusing on one couple in particular -- as they trek across the Antarctic on an annual journey that invokes just about every major life experience: from birth to death, from dating to mating, from comedy to tragedy, and from love to fighting for survival.

Review

In the heart of summer comes a story of winter--and the incorrigible emperor penguins that (sometimes) fall victim to its harshness. In March of the Penguins, the clumsy little fellas finally get their due in a National Geographic documentary all about them. It's heartwarming, inspiring and sad enough to make it all the way to the big screen. Penguin-philes, rejoice (because we're a dying breed)!


Story


The average temperature in Antarctica is 58 below zero. This might be cruel conditions to us humans, but it's home to the emperor penguins and has been for a millennia. Each March, these penguins hop, slip, slide and quasi-fly 70 miles--yes, 70 miles--across icy terrain, and even colder winds, in search of a mate. Some will make it. Some will simply succumb to the elements along the trek. And their painstaking journey is only the beginning. Once at their destination, the emperors proceed to court one another. Plenty of jockeying for suitors ensues, in a polar tango of sorts, which is followed by all the couples gathering and, well, snuggling. From a distance it looks like some preternatural sea of blackness. Once the females give birth come June, everything revolves around tending to the egg. Oddly, the female goes back to find food while the male stays put, goes months without eating and simply ensures the safety of the egg. The only defense the abandoned, starving males have against the harsh cold is huddling together to try and keep warm. After roughly two months, the babies are born. And there is nothing more humbling than seeing a newborn penguin peering from underneath its parent's protective belly. But it is equally heartbreaking to see them come out from their shelters too soon and suffer the consequences. Soon the mother comes to save the day, feeding them, coddling them, admonishing them, and, ultimately, leaving them to eventually do what they just did on their own.


Direction


The divinity of March of the Penguins does not lie solely in its subject(s). Director Luc Jacquet (and his brave crew) are, literally and figuratively, behind the splendor of these creatures. Aside from the beauty depicted on the screen throughout the documentary, it is impossible to not constantly reflect on the fact that people had to actually be there, in this frozen hell of a movie set, to capture it. That said, Jacquet epitomizes what it means to make a documentary. He clearly endured anything and everything in order to finish the job without adulterating. But that's only part of the hardship involved in making a docu; he then added to the mix soothing classical music to mimic the giggly-sad dynamic. Also, narrating the docu is Morgan Freeman--the Tom Cruise (circa sanity, say, 2004) of narrators. Freeman's old-wise-man tone underscores the poetry-in-motion of Penguins perfectly. But it's Jacquet's vision--and he must have a genuine undying affinity for the enigmatic penguins to have put up with such elements. The love and craftsmanship shine through in a movie which cannot rely on performances, costumes or effects to make it what it is--that is, nothing short of brilliant and enlightening.


Bottom Line


In a summer more bent on world-domination than hand-holding, March of the Penguins might just be the must-see romantic comedy of the season, with moments ranging from the tender (penguin courtship) to the funny (penguin slips and falls). In painting an idyllic picture of an animal generally ignored, as they interact within their brutal environments, it will leave you appreciating a penguin's sense of style.

Synopsis

Emperor penguins overcome daunting obstacles in order to return to their breeding grounds for mating season. This tells the story of one year in the life of a flock -- focusing on one couple in particular -- as they trek across the Antarctic on an annual journey that invokes just about every major life experience: from birth to death, from dating to mating, from comedy to tragedy, and from love to fighting for survival.

Stills