March of the Penguins

2006-09-01 18:46


Each winter, alone in the pitiless ice deserts of Antarctica, deep in the most inhospitable terrain on Earth, a truly remarkable journey takes place as it has done for millennia. Emperor penguins in their thousands abandon the deep blue security of their ocean home and clamber onto the frozen ice to begin their long journey into a region so bleak, so extreme, it supports no other wildlife at this time of year. In single file, the penguins march blinded by blizzards, buffeted by gale force winds. Resolute, indomitable, driven by the overpowering urge to reproduce, to assure the survival of the species.


Imagine a story about a pair of star-crossed lovers who are forced to flee across a vast desert to consummate their love, only to be separated again so that their only child might live. Sounds like a sweeping romantic epic doesn't it? Well it is, it's just that the protagonists happen to be four-feet tall and covered in feathers.

Seen from one perspective, March of the Penguins is an excellent example of the differences between French and English temperaments. The English approach - perhaps best embodied by the marvellous David Attenborough - tends towards scientific detachment. That's not to say they are disinterested - on the contrary Attenborough's genius is in transmitting his fascination to us. But sentiment and anthropomorphism are quietly and firmly discouraged. These are animals after all, however much they may resemble humans.

The French on the other hand, have absolutely no problem with anthropomorphising their subjects. "The creature has human traits? Great! Let's make the most of it." March of the Penguins is an extreme example of this tendency. While it is without a doubt still a nature film, it is also a grand romantic drama and an epic adventure story. Scientific observations are, at best, implied while the narrative of the penguins' journey takes centre stage.

While this sentimental approach may irritate some, it's hard not to get swept along by the poignancy and the majesty of these incredible creatures and their mad journey. This is further compounded by the lush, intimate style of the visuals that emphasises the abstract beauty of our feathery heroes rather than examining them clinically.

Director Luc Jacquet seems to have an innate sense for symmetry, and he uses it to great effect. A line of marching penguins, 500 strong, becomes an undulating wave of colour against the white canvas of the tundra. A pair of mating penguins become a piece of moving abstract art, their striking plumage magnified into fields of fiery gold, pure white and pitch black.

Whether or not you enjoy the film, you still have to give credit to the filmmakers for their technical prowess and their dogged dedication. The crew spent an unbroken year in the antarctic, shooting over 120 hours of footage in temperatures as low as 100 degrees below freezing and winds as high as 162 km/h.

What's more they couldn't develop one second of the film until the shooting was over, and thus had no idea whether any of their scenes had been properly shot. They had to rely instead on skill, luck and a good deal of faith.

Even if you don't normally enjoy nature films, March of the Penguins is still an absolute must see. You may find it cutesy, or you may find it enchanting. Either way, you're unlikely to see the story of these incredible creatures better presented anywhere else. Don't miss it.

- Alistair Fairweather

This docu-drama about the mating rituals of the Emperor Penguin is an extraordinary combination of nature film, epic adventure and poignant love story. It's nature at its most beautiful and its most terrible.

Sue Larrett 2006/02/24 7:57 AM
Ms This is a stunningly sad and beautiful story set in the amazingly stark and arid terrain of the Antarctica - the background music is perfect for the story and exceptionally well filmed. A must for all animal and environmental enthusiasts. March of the Penguins
Bev 2006/02/24 11:10 AM
March of the Penguins This has to be one of the most adorable documentaries ever. Most enjoyable and informative. MARCH OF THE PENGUINS
Madeleine 2006/02/24 2:50 PM
Mev Mev
Sheila Catterall 2006/02/25 11:10 AM
Mrs Excellent - well presented Yes
Alet 2006/02/26 10:54 AM
March of the Penguins I only saw the trailer of this movie and I think it is fantastic. I like movies with animals Yes
Sue 2006/02/26 2:03 PM
SUPER I watched only the trailer on MWeb, without sound and I absolutely LOVED it. I'm definitely going to watch it. OH FOR SURE!!!
Pat Browne 2006/02/26 2:34 PM
March of the Penguins I saw the trailer on MWeb. Have always been fascinated by these beautiful feathered creatures and what drives them and now I'll get to understand them more fully. Can't wait to see the movie and will make sure I have a box or two of tissues to hand. ABSOLUTELY!!!
susan 2006/02/26 6:10 PM
march of the penguins really enjoyed the preview.will definately go and see it,also being national geographic. yes
JB 2008/05/26 10:59 AM
song can anyone tell me what song they used for the end credits, is really beautiful and suites the whole snow theme
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.