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March of the Penguins Review

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by AVForums Jan 1, 2006

    March of the Penguins Review
    A documentary about penguins may not seem like a valid option for a Saturday evening viewing. After all, what can possibly be the attraction of watching a bunch of daft penguins for a couple of hours? Its not like there's going to be a whole bunch of bass shaking explosions or high speed action scenes involving a car and a selection of high calibre weaponry. That is, unless these penguins have evolved more than we suspect?

    Actually there is quite a bit to admire, here, and a bit more on that evolution thing, too.

    March of the Penguins details the unbelievable life of the Emperor Penguin and how these remarkable creatures survive the near inhospitable continent of Antarctica. I suppose that good old David Attenborough may have done the emperor penguins before, but perhaps not with the flair for beauty that March of the Penguins displays. High praise indeed, considering how much I like David Attenborough and his work.

    March of the Penguins begins with a small introduction to the continent and the penguins themselves before quite quickly moving onto the titular march. The environment in which these awkward creatures match is as beautiful as it is desolate with temperatures as low as -30°C. Antarctica is also the driest place on earth, despite rare snowfall, which makes the actual distance the penguins walk even more astonishing: up to seventy miles, ice cap permitting. It isn't as if the penguins make only one march, either as both male and female make several trips per year, each more difficult than the last as temperatures plummet to -80°C, without taking into consideration windchill factors. It makes the mind boggle that such an ill at ease creature should march so, yet march they must if the species is to survive - everything balancing on the delicate egg perched atop the penguin's feet.

    March of the Penguins is a slow burner whose pacing is steady and deliberate. Long periods of the documentary dwell on the stark beauty of the frozen wasteland, hammering home the bleak choices that have been made for these most unusual of creatures. Indeed as you watch March of the Penguins there is a sense that these penguins, which survive against all adversity, are the creation of something fantastic. So delicate is the balance between life and death such a balance cannot possibly be mere chance. March of the Penguins is probably the best cinematic evidence that I have seen proving the existence of... Evolution.
    It pains me to a degree that I cannot put into words that blinkered folk think that this documentary proves the existence of a higher being when it clearly doesn't. What March of the Penguins does prove is how Nature balances the many and varied animals on this planet after millions of years of trial and error. There is no chance in this footage; what we see is Nature in all her glory showing us mere humans just how the life of this planet is moulded to a symbiotic perfection. God doesn't even come into it.

    Now that's out of the way, I have only two more things to say. Firstly Morgan Freeman's commentary is a bit melodramatic in places, bringing you out of the documentary - there is one scene where a father looses the mother's egg which quickly freezes, killing the life inside. “The pain must be unbearable” murmurs Freeman quite unnecessarily as the evidence is plain onscreen. Still Freeman, as usual, has a certain gravitas that many actors would kill for, and this is just listening to his voice (Freeman is still not as good as David Attenborough, mind!). The second thing is the actual filming of the penguins. Some of the shots used are wonderful, making me wonder how these were achieved. This will probably be revealed in the extras section, which I have yet to watch, but for now I shall have to sit here and try to empathise with the patience it must have taken to get this great documentary made.