Film Pop: March of the Penguins

Year: 2005
Director: Luc Jacquet
Stars: Morgan Freeman (voice)

The past week has been a very busy one for me.  I’ve had a lot of fun, but I haven’t had the time to watch many movies at all.  One film I did manage to catch was March of the Penguins, this critically-acclaimed documentary showing the lives and hardships of the titular Antarctic birds.  From French director Luc Jacquet, the film was initially released in his mother tongue as La Marche de l’empereur and took a very different approach.  While in English the story is told by a lone, detached narrator (Freeman), the original French version took the perspective of a male and female Emperor Penguin couple, giving them voices to hear the story from their point of view.  This version sounds like it would be worth investigating, but in the English edition Freeman puts his well-tested voiceover skills to excellent use here, with a depth of emotion that really helps the viewer feel involved and even invested in the progress of these flightless birds thousands of miles away.

It’s probably easiest for me to tell you just to watch the documentary than trying here to detail everything the penguins go through, but it mostly covers the lives of a group of Emperor Penguins from courtship and mating through egg incubation and hatching until the new chicks are old enough to fend for themselves, finally releasing the parents from this epic obligation for the time being.  The film itself, on the other hand, is considerably less epic; the box claims an 85 minute run time (which would be short in itself) but the credits begin rolling around the 75 minute mark.  This makes the film a pretty easy watch, although with a considerable amount of activity packed into such a short time it’s important to pay close attention so as not to miss anything important.

Winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature the year it was released, March of the Penguins thus becomes only the second Oscar-winning documentary I’ve seen (following 2002’s Bowling for Columbine) which informs me that I ought to make these kinds of films a bigger part of my movie watching adventure.  I do like to learn, and if I can do that while being entertained then so much the better.

I can definitely recommend this as one to watch.  It’s hardly groundbreaking, but as one of the few (non-controversial) documentaries to break through into the realm of the wider popular cinematic culture it must be doing something right (Freeman’s involvement probably being a large part of this).  As I say, it’s easy to watch and although there are certainly a few gloomy moments it’s mostly the uplifting story of the triumph of a small group against their harsh, unforgiving environment.  It has drama, tension, sorrow and success.  Really, what more can you ask for in a movie?

My Rating: 7.5/10


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