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    March of the Penguins

    Waddle they think of next?

    An hour and a half is a long time to watch — of all things — penguins migrate, but "March of the Penguins" is an often-engaging and beautifully photographed documentary offering even more than you needed to know about the "emperors" of the Antarctic.


    Like its stiff yet oddly majestic subjects, "March of the Penguins" is a slow-moving but engaging documentary that charts a year in the life of the emperor penguin. In fact, the film's original French title — it was made by Frenchman Luc Jacquet but narrated in English by Morgan Freeman for the U.S. release — is "La Marche De L'Empˇreur" ("The March of the Emperor") but changed lest American audiences figured they were about to see a narrative based on Napoleon's exile on Elba or a sequel to Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor," perhaps.

    Original title: La Marche de l'Empˇreur.
    Directed by: Luc Jacquet.
    Produced by: Jean-Fran¨ois Camilleri, Yves Darondeau, Christophe Lioud, Emmanuel Priou.
    Written by: Luc Jacquet, Michel Fessler, Jordan Roberts.
    Cinematography: Laurent Chalet, Jˇr™me Maison.
    Edited by: Sabine Emiliani.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Around March, coincidentally, emperor penguins pack up shop and embark on a long, dangerous, and cinematically impressive journey to their breeding grounds some 70 miles inland. Scientists don't rightly know how these creatures know the way — perhaps the sun, stars, or something else entirely guides them — but they've been doing it for tens of thousands of years without interruption and don't appear to need much help from anybody (although not all of them make it, of course).

    Having arrived at their destination, beset by predators, minus-80-degree temperatures (not figuring in the wind chills), and a singular lack of food and water, these funny-looking flightless birds find a mate, mate, and wait for the egg — just the one egg, mind you — to hatch. Then the womenfolk march back to the receding ocean to feed while their husbands take over the parenting duties, sheltering first the egg and then the newborn infant atop their feet, protected by a fold of skin on their warm underbellies.

    March of the Penguins  
    When the mothers return — a joyous event greeted by an ear-wrenching cacophony of sound from their spouses and young alike — they resume their roles of caregivers while the males, having gone without food for as much as four months now, trek back to the ocean themselves.

    Eventually their fuzzy balls of fluff will be old enough to fend for themselves and the females will abandon them again as the year — and this fascinating cycle of life — draws to an end.

    Like Jacques Perrin's marvelous "Winged Migration" (what is it with Frenchmen and birds anyway?), "March of the Penguins" attempts to bring us an up-close-and-personal view of these charismatic creatures — it might easily be subtitled "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Emperor Penguin*... But Were Afraid to Ask." Jacquet's film is filled with breathtaking Antarctic imagery — the National Geographic-sponsored photography is superb — and impressive close-ups of the penguins themselves, their sleek black and white plumage accented by a shock of bright orange on their heads as their survivalist skills are put to the test.

      March of the Penguins
    But whereas it was truly breathtaking to see, say, a slow-motion close-up of an albatross in flight, its powerful, rippling wings cutting through the air with strength and determination, it's not quite as moving an experience watching hundreds of penguins waddling in a single solitary line for 84 minutes. That, and the narration often tends to be dull and humorless — I found myself finishing Freeman's sentences for him many a time. (His current voiceover work at the beginning of Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" is far less clichˇd.)

    Still, as a portrait of a creature with surprisingly human characteristics, "March of the Penguins" is a lovingly shot and technically splendid testament to these remarkably resilient birds.

    JULY 11, 2005

    Reader comments on March of the Penguins:

  • march of the penguins   from geraldine, Mar 31, 2006
  • Puh-leeze   from Pokey, Oct 30, 2006
  • Re: Puh-leeze   from Lynne, Dec 13, 2006
  • Wonderful   from Gus, Jan 2, 2007
  • [no subject]   from xxARMY.OF.ONExx, Mar 5, 2009

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