The cold, hard facts of penguin life
Review: March of the Penguins
|There's no Sidney Crosby or Mario Lemieux in this March of the Penguins|
There are two kinds of people in the world, those who want to look at penguins for 80 minutes and those who don't. The former group may never get a better opportunity than Luc Jacquet's March of the Penguins, which proves the National Geographic imprimatur still stands for something in regard to quality.
Apparently there are a lot of penguin lovers, because this film became the big indie success story of the summer of 2005.
Soothingly narrated by Morgan Freeman, who just keeps getting better with everything he does, March follows emperor penguins in Antarctica through their annual cycle in what's described as "the darkest, driest, windiest, coldest continent on Earth." (I guess they've never been to Chicago in January.)
To make the title a double-entendre the film begins in March, the end of the Antarctic summer. Like an illustration of evolution the penguins leave the water, where they've spent the last three months, crawl up on land, then begin to walk upright.
They walk inland to their breeding ground, where for a time the scene resembles a formal singles bar, except that there are no drinks to pour over the ice. Freeman tells us the penguins are "monogamous, sort of." They choose mates to whom they will be faithful for the rest of the year, then split up and go through the process again the following year. There's something to be said for that idea.
The camera gets so close (we see some of how it was done during the closing credits) it's almost like a third partner in the birds' foreplay. There's no graphic mating footage in this G-rated documentary, but perhaps some will be included in an unrated DVD version for fans of penguin porn.
The eggs are laid in June and transferred to the males for safekeeping while the females walk back over 70 miles to the sea to eat and bring back food for their chicks. The males protect the eggs from the cold and ice by balancing them on top of their claws and covering them with folds of fur and fat from their stomachs. The same is done for the baby chicks when they're born, shortly before their mothers return - not a moment too soon and sometimes a moment too late.
The couples find each other in the crowd because they recognize the sound of each other's voices, which are apparently as distinctive as ring tones. Family reunions are kept short because it's the turn of the fathers, who haven't eaten in four months, to go for food. Shortly before they return the mothers make another trip to the sea for food, leaving the newborns alone for the first time.
In December the families split up and head for the sea. The youngsters will stay there for four years while the adults will repeat their migration come next March. You could probably devise a more efficient system but this one's been working for the penguins for thousands of years.
Theaters can save on air conditioning while showing March of the Penguins. It's hard to imagine anyone sweating while watching the spectacular Antarctic icescapes.
Steve Warren is a local actor and film reviewer. His reviews can also be seen weekly in the Sunday Paper.