Winner of the 2006 Academy Award® for Best Documentary, March of the Penguins instantly qualifies as a wildlife classic, taking its place among other extraordinary films like Microcosmos and Winged Migration. French filmmaker Luc Jacquet and his devoted crew endured a full year of extreme conditions in Antarctica to capture the life cycle of Emperor penguins on film, and their diligence is evident in every striking frame of this 80-minute documentary. Narrated in soothing tones by Morgan Freeman, the film focuses on a colony of hundreds of Emperors as they return, in a single-file march of 70 miles or more, to their frozen breeding ground, far inland from the oceans where they thrive. At times dramatic, suspenseful, mischievous and just plain funny, the film conveys the intensity of the penguins' breeding cycle, and their treacherous task of protecting eggs and hatchlings in temperatures as low as 128 degrees below zero. There is some brief mating-ritual violence and sad moments of loss, but March of the Penguins remains family-friendly throughout, and kids especially will enjoy the Antarctic blue-ice vistas and the playful, waddling appeal of the penguins, who can be slapstick clumsy or magnificently graceful, depending on the circumstances. A marvel of wildlife cinematography, this unique film offers a front-row seat to these amazing creatures, balancing just enough scientific information with the entertaining visuals. --Jeff Shannon
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 millenia. Emperor penguins in their thousands abandon the deep blue security of their ocean home and clamber onto the frozen land to begin their long journey to the continent's desolate interior, a region so bleak, so extreme, it supports no other life. In single file the penguins march, blinded by blizzards, buffeted by 250 k.p.h. gales. Resolute, indomitable, driven by the overpowering urge to reproduce, to assure the survival of the species.
Guided by instinct, by shadows beneath the treacherous ice, by the otherworldly radiance of the Southern Cross, they head unerringly for their traditional breeding ground where - after a ritual courtship of intricate dances and delicate manoeuvring, accompanied by a cacophony of ecstatic song - they will pair off into monogamous couples and mate. The days grow shorter, the weather ever more bitter. The females remain long enough only to lay. Once this is accomplished, exhausted by weeks without nourishment, they begin their return journey across 200 kilometres of ice-field to the fish-filled seas. The journey is hazardous, and rapacious sea leopards a predatory threat. The male emperors are left behind to guard and hatch the precious eggs, which they cradle at all times on their claws. Subjected to -40°C temperatures and the terrible trials of the polar winter, they too face great dangers. After four long months during which the males eat nothing, the eggs begin to hatch. Once they have emerged into their ghostly white new world, the chicks can survive for only 48 hours on their own food reserves. If their mothers are late returning from the ocean with food, the newly-hatched young will die.
Once the families are reunited, the roles reverse, the mothers remaining with their new young while their mates head, exhausted and starved, for the sea, and food. While the adults fish, the chicks face the ever-present threat of attack by rapacious giant petrels. As the weather grows warmer and the ice floes finally begin to crack and melt, the adults will repeat their arduous journey countless times, marching many hundreds of kilometres over some of the most treacherous territory on Earth, until the chicks are ready to take their first faltering dive into the deep blue waters of the Antarctic ocean. Standing proud on the ice frontier, the emperor embodies the most powerful moments of existence.
Love and solidarity combine in the heroic struggle for life. It is time for the emperor's legend to be told.© Luc Jacquet & Bonne Pioche
The plot of the film is extraordinarily simple - the film follows the Emperor Penguins of Antarctica during their annual mating and rearing cycle. It is framed from start to finish in terms of the march - the march from the sea to the mating spot, the march to return to the sea for food, the march again for rearing the young, and the march again finally to return to the sea.
There is a great deal of humour and grace; penguins are gentle beings, vulnerable to predators and to the hazards of the winter - despite being fashioned for some of the coldest climates on earth, they nonetheless require warmth, particularly for their eggs and the hatchlings. In the severe cold and far-below-zero windchills, many do not make it, and the one negative side of the film for me was a somewhat constant lingering on this downside. While it is a part of nature, it still becomes a bit more tragic in the cycle of the film than it needs to be. As this is billed as a family film, I worried that some of the children viewing might be more emotionally upset at this than they needed to be.
Still, the details presented are fascinating, and it is a true testament to filmmaking that these shots and images were captured as dramatically, humourously, gracefully and beautifully as they were.
This film has 'Academy Award' written all over it, in many categories. Cinematography, musical score, directing, documentary - these are only some of the categories in which this film is likely to get a nod.Read more ›