March of the Penguins

Director: Luc Jacquet

France-U.S.A.| 2005. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 85 min.

A captivating feature documentary about the remarkable lives of emperor penguins, which every year abandon the icy waters of Antarctica to find a mating partner, one with whom they will embark on an epic journey, brave a pitiless winter, and share parental duties—struggling against all the odds to hatch a single egg, so the cycle may continue. If you think you have seen all this before, perhaps in a David Attenborough documentary, think again. There is time here to tell and show the whole fascinating story, and in far more detail. And this is, above all, a story—one with suspense, emotion, set-backs and a few surprises.
From the moment the comically ungainly emperor penguins set off on their single-file trek inland, we are caught up. We observe their graceful mating rituals, their precarious balancing of a single, precious egg on the clenched toes of their feet, the way the group huddles together for warmth, as they are lashed by 100 mph winds and blinding snow. And all of this is narrated in resonant, reassuring tones by actor Morgan Freeman, who wisely resists the temptation to anthropomorphise the penguins in a sub-Disney style.
Eyebrows were raised when Warner Independent Pictures paid a tidy sum for the rights to French director Luc Jacquet’s nature documentary featuring a pop soundtrack and some irksome-sounding voices for the main feathered actors. Fear not, however, because the pop music has been jettisoned in favour of a more traditional score, and the character voices replaced by Morgan Freeman’s more telling, low-key commentary. The result is a delightful and irresistible entertainment, and the second most successful documentary in cinema history.

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