March of the Penguins (2005)

5152iChllMLThe title March of the Penguins really refers to the march of a large tribe of Emperor penguins focused on here that march to a nesting spot, attempt to breed, and then march back and forth finding food to feed the only babies that were able to survive the harsh cold. For those religious whom attempted to pin their ideologies upon this hit  documentary, they never really take in to consideration much of what happens here. Regardless though, “March of the Penguins”, the second highest grossing documentary of all time, basically has one objective to show the true nature of the penguin’s journey to pro-create. We see penguins marching, penguins surviving, penguins mating, and penguins attempting to have babies. Obviously that’s not just one objective, but it really does boil down to the purpose of the documentary.

It’s much in the vein of “Le Peuple Migrateur” (except not as staged) and the old nature documentaries that aired on ABC (except not as delightfully ignorant). Yes, “March” features the basic cycle of the wilderness, life and death, live or die, the basic laws of nature. And there are some cute baby penguins in the climax. Narrating yet again is the great Morgan Freeman who seems to be very engrossed in the material he’s exploring because penguins are an oddly compelling animal. They huddle together during snow storms and form little groups to keep each other warm, they nestle their babies underneath their stomachs to keep them warm, they protect one another from birds and each other, they perform an odd little dance to court each other, and they all look so damn similar after months away from each other they need to rely on sound to identify their mates and babies.

But Jacquet’s exploration in to these birds is also often an adorable and funny chronicle that’s basically a short tale in its brief run time, but really does paint the life and death struggle of the emperor penguins as unique and complex enough for the target audience to explore with wide-eyed wonder. For the older audience, they’ll be more inclined to discover the utterly excellent direction and amazing cinematography courtesy of Luc Jacquet, Laurent Chalet, and Jérôme Maison. And kids will love the way these birds act like humans, especially in terms of relationships and children, caring for them, sacrificing to take care of them, and the companionship among the tribe of emperor penguins to keep each other safe in the face of the harsh winter.

Jacquet’s exploration of these animals is simple, and direct, but also very fascinating and entertaining that will appeal to adults and children’s curiosities. For the kids, this will be a new and invigorating experience, but for the adults, well, you’ll notice instantly that there’s really nothing here that you can’t find on PBS or the National Geographic Channel. As a kid, living on network television for years, on the weekends, my dad would take control of the television and the afternoons were spent on PBS watching repair shows, and then four hours of wildlife programming with lions and antelopes, and the occasional aquatic animal, and of all the documentaries I’ve seen, “March of the Penguins” seemed like a superficial film when compared.

“March” is really just meant for children, it never studies anatomy, breeding habits, and biology, it’s just these groups of penguins mating, and you’ll be able to find this just about anywhere else you look, which is what kept me from truly becoming engrossed in the film. I figured a film so highly praised would have offered something unique and fresh to the fold, but in the end it’s just fluff, and fluff that really won’t appeal to science and wildlife buffs save for occasional nuggets that audiences will find interesting. And such proof of fluff is how the film is narrated. Freeman is excellent, but the descriptions are often sugar-coated. The mating rituals are featured for just ten seconds in a non-suggestive subtle method, and worst of all, the film shies away from really showing the harsh realities of this life; instead of saying “die” or “dead”, they replace it with “fade away” or “disappear”.

I get that they don’t want to sadden the audience too exhaustively, but if this is a film about examination of life, wouldn’t the examination of death be also a natural part of the documenting? Life and death are natural polar opposites that deserve exploration, and death should be just as featured prominently as life. Did I love it? No. Did I like it? Sure. It’s overrated, excruciatingly overblown, and has nothing you can’t find on an average program on PBS or the National Geographic channel, but–though–only at almost ninety minutes, it sure is a lot of fun. Watch penguins walk, watch penguins lay eggs, watch penguins make whoopie, watch penguins die. This is more of an exploration of a family of another species, a passable children’s film that kids will utterly love. As for adults? Well–best bring a magazine. Just in case.