March of the Penguins (2005)
Starring: Morgan Freeman [narrator], a bunch of penguins
Directed by: Luc Jacquet
Ahhh... penguins. Nature's headwaiters. I love penguins. I love the way the waddle; I love how they're birds who think they're fish. They're awesome. At the hotel my wife and I got married (The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas), they have penguins in their gardens. I wanted to incorporate one into the ceremony, maybe as a ringbearer, but sadly, we could not. Even though they were dressed for the occassion.
So how could I not watch a documentary on penguins? Originally shot as a french documentary titled La Marche de l'empereur (it has made over $12 million in France), the film dropped it's original narration from the penguins point of view, added the soothing narration of Morgan Freeman and a new score, and released it Stateside. For the past few weeks, with limited release, the film has been the biggest grossing film on a per screen basis in America. It is the hot documentary of the year, and it didn't have to attack the government or a major corporation to do it (it's made an estimated $3.9 million in North America thus far).
Instead of political intrigue, National Geographic's film, directed by Luc Jacquet, focuses on the incredible journey undertaken by the Emperor Penguin every March in Antarctica, where they travel some 70 miles in the harsh winter to breed. It's a stunning portrayal of the brutal struggle they face in the most severe weather on earth, and a stark reminder of the adaptability of nature.
The tag line for the film is "In the harshest place on Earth, love finds a way", and the film does an excellent job in portraying both the harshness of their trials and the startling lengths they'll go through, if not for love (which is a little anthropomorphic for my liking), then for the over-powering desire to fulfill their genetic destiny. They travel 70 miles into the continent to find a bit of cover from the brutal winds and temperatures (reaching -80 degrees at points), and solid ice that will prevent their offspring from falling into the ocean beneath them. Not all of the penguins will survive this journey, nor the subsequent journeys back to the ocean to get more food for their chicks. The male penguins go as long as four months without eating, as they protect the eggs after the mothers have laid them while the females go back to eat. While watching the amazing lengths the penguins go to procreate, I couldn't help thinking what a silly animals we humans have become. These animals risk their lives to create life, and a lot of people don't want kids, or put it off until it's biologically difficult. But, then again, it's just another thing that separates us from beasts, along with those oh-so-handy opposable thumbs.
The film was stunningly beautiful with its portrayal of not only the dedication of the penguins, but also the unique, almost alien, territory that surrounds them. The shots they are able to get of the penguins, be it in their mating territory, under water, or in the middle of a blizzard, are phenomenal. The film does a great job in showing both the beauty and the horror of nature, as some of the eggs and chicks don't make it. The penguins are hunted under water and on the surface, and the climate is as punishing as it is fascinating. Also, it has Morgan Freeman narrative. What's not to like about that?
I absolutely loved watching it. It was fun, touching, exciting, and interesting, and only clocks in at 80 minutes, so it manages to remain entertaining throughout. Forget Dakota Fanning, or The Bad News Bears, or anything else. You won't see anything cuter in the theatres this summer than a newborn baby penguin. You probably will never see anything cuter than baby penguins learning to walk for the first time. Conversely, you probably won't see anything sadder than dying baby penguins. The movie runs the viewer through an emotional roller coaster, and is as fun an experience I have had in a movie theatre all year.
I loved it. I think the only way I could've loved it more is if it were The March of the Beagles. Or the March of the Ewoks. I highly recommend you check this out when it comes to your town. PENGUINS!!!