March of the Penguins

August, 2005, Documentary

Directed by:Luc Jacquet

It may be a telling sign of this year’s hot-weather movies to note that this technically superb documentary is selling more movie tickets than many of the summer’s big-budget flops.

French director Luc Jacquet hits a grand slam homer with this, his first film, a methodically detailed examination of a single year in the lives of a group of Emperor Penguins in their astoundingly harsh Antarctic environment. With slick narration by Morgan Freeman, (whose languid tones and deliberate pacing perfectly match the stately but agonizing pace of these oddly formal creatures). The director and his crew, (cleverly heralded in the ending credits) follow the life cycle of these hardy mammals, from their feeding grounds at the edge of the continent’s ice cap to breeding grounds over 50 miles inland. There, they mate and care for the season’s young with a regimen as improbable as it is compelling. There are no villains here, just elegantly handsome creatures that walk like metronomes while remaining fiercely attached to their mates and offspring in what has to the one of the harshest environments anywhere on the globe.

With a level of patience that nearly matches that of their subjects, Jacquet and his crew patiently track the always purposeful movements of this breed as they take turns trudging back to open water to gather the food necessary for their chicks’ survival. (The chicks, by the way, may just be the cutest animals you’ll ever see anywhere.)

Only 85 minutes in length, this quiet examination of a fascinating species in a climate so alien to those in the audience manages to capture a truly fascinating chapter in nature’s textbook. You’ll learn a lot and enjoy every minute of it. Like 2003’s Winged Migration, this one will steal your heart.

Two viewing notes: (1) because of Antarctica’s vastness and the stark brilliance of it’s weather, you should see this film in a theatre because much of its visual impact won’t survive translation to a small screen, no matter how sophisticated and (2) bring a sweater or light jacket with you - - seeing these indomitable creatures huddling together in a blizzard with temperatures hovering near 50 degrees below zero will literally give you the chills.

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