The documentary genre has seen a surprising resurgence in the past coupleof years with Spellbound, Touching the Void and Fahrenheit 9/11 all becomingbona fide hits. The latest addition is March of the Penguins, which has beena massive sleeper hit over the summer in the US. Raking in over US$75 millionand out grossing big-budget flicks such as The Island and Bewitched, it’sbeen quite a sensation.
Following the mating and breeding habits of the Emperor penguins in theAntarctic, the film is a journey that is taken so that the species cansurvive. They all travel to their traditional breeding ground, an area sobleak, cold and unrelenting many do not make the trip. They then pair offinto monogamous couples and mate. But after the females lay their eggs, thepenguins take on an intriguing role reversal. While the males take care ofthe eggs and protect them from the harsh weather, the females travel to thesea for food. The males often don’t eat for up to 120 days as they wait forthe females to return. There is a fight for survival as the males huddletogether to stay warm and protect their offspring at any cost.
Nature documentaries are often not hugely involving, but there’ssomething about March of the Penguins that just grabs you from the outset.It may help that it’s narrated by Morgan Freeman, who can give an air ofauthenticity and wisdom to just about anything. The film makers areincredibly skilled in sketching out the penguins in a humane manner.You’ll find yourself caring about their plight in a way that youcould never have expected.
The intimacy of the cinematography is amazing as we get to seeevery intimate detail of their bizarre ritual. From the quirkiness of theinitial march to the surprising poignancy of the baby penguins who don’tsurvive the harsh weather, the film manages to appeal to a wide array ofemotions. Originally made in French and then translated around the world,it’s surely a dead cert for next year’s best documentary Oscar.
If you would never go to see a nature documentary onprinciple, think again. Morgan Freeman tells us this is a storyprimarily about love. Cleverly released in the Christmas season in the UK,this deserves to repeat its US success and will surely cause a massiveincrease in the sales of stuffed penguin toys. Appealing to all the family, March of the Penguinsis perfect holiday fare – and for the easily amused sections of theaudience, there are plenty of gratuitous shots of penguins falling over.One of the year’s most surprising and uplifting movies.