View Full Version : The March of the Penguins

12th Dec 2005, 16:42

This is an amazing film to see. Ignore what you may have read about it's adoption by the Christian right in the US, it is an amazing piece of filming about amazing birds - am I rhapsodising too much? Tough, it's AMAZING!

There isn't much to say really, the film follows the story of the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica over the course of one year as they rear their chicks in the same place they were all born. Of course there is no acting and there are no characters to criticise, there are no set pieces or dubious CGI there is just the ice and the snow and the sky and the penguins (oh and Morgan Freeman, but more of him later). But despite this, the penguins are fascinating to watch, the way they relate, father to mother, mother and father to egg and then chick, and at moments their movements and sounds are so anthropomorphic that you laugh as if you were watching slightly fat tuxedoe'd gentlemen slip around on the ice.

The filming is beautiful. There are some extreme closeups that show how fine these bird's feathers are and the scenery - apart from being mostly snow and ice is stunning. As much of it was shot over the antarctic winter they clearly had to use a very high ISO film giving some of the shots a grainy quality, but this doesn't mar the quality of the image at all - if anything it heightens the depiction of the harshness of the environment. I would desperately love to see the southern lights now - or in fact the northern ones, Scotland for me sometime soon then...

This could have been a much more sacharine film focusing totally on how cute the small fat fluffy penguin chicks are - and they definitely are - but it is a documentary and has it's fill of predators and tragic death and loss. And the weather does make you wonder how any of them survive at all, let along maintain a population!

As a Brit who has, like so many others, grown up unquestioningly believing every word that David Attenborough utters, and finding it somewhat hard to watch nature programming without him (Life in the Undergrowth is fantastic too), I was slightly wary of Morgan Freeman doing the voice over, but he's fine. His voice is rich, and tonal and deep and it is nice to listen to. He is not overly dramatic, which allows the scenery and the penguins to do their work of inspiring awe and amazement in the audience. Perhaps one reason that it so wowed the US is the lack of Mr Attenborough and his quality of programmes.

It's comparatively short, great for kids - there were lots in the cinema I saw it in, talking all the way through, but I didn't really mind, and I'm sure will be a great Christmas standard before long.

12th Dec 2005, 16:53
great, might go and see this instead of HPATGOF. I was surprised how expressive and aware penguins can be. I met this cheeky fella in January.

http://static.flickr.com/13/15106324_ba1a23cf4b_m.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/chillicheese/15106324/)

He just wouldn't stop posing for the camera and every time I stepped away he came closer.

13th Dec 2005, 14:54
Puffins. Amazing birds.

13th Dec 2005, 14:55
Also Kiwis.

19th Dec 2005, 10:30
Caught this towards the end of last week. At a very modest 84 minutes, it provided a very welcome break amid some heavy-duty Christmas shopping. Can only endorse Digger's sentiments - this is a truly wonderful little film. A gem that is a refreshing breath of air amongst all the current glitzy cinematic baubles that try to stun with electronic wizardry - a gem that relies on the stunning wizardry of Mother Nature alone to entertain. Well, for my money, this little bobby-dazzler proves Ma Nature does it better. The determination and stamina shown by these modest, rather comical little birds in the face of some of the worst weather conditions and wholly inhospitable terrain this planet has to offer, is mind-blowingly awesome and very, very humbling. The biological urge to procreate and ensure the survival of the species, forces these valiant little creatures to trek seventy miles inland to their breeding ground where the ice is deep and dense enough not to melt during the incubation period. Once there, a mate chosen, and the ensuing courtship (a ballet of such tenderness and grace, it sends shivers to the spine) completed, the mothers must traipse another 140 mile round trip to the sea and back again to fatten up again, in order to feed the hatchling; the same for the father penguins once the mothers return. Then a final and thankfully much shorter trip for the whole family to the sea which is now much nearer due to warmer temperatures melting the ice. In all each adult bird must waddle, slither, shuffle over 220 odd miles during the breeding season going months without food, and somehow navigating their journey amid an ever-changing landscape, as the ice floes form and melt. The blizzards and temperatures endured by the father penguins during their four month wait nursing their egg on the tops of their feet beneath a pouch of fur are the worst you can imagine. Yet miraculously they keep faith in order to ensure their young will survive - some dying in the process, unable to withstand the ordeal.

Morgan Freeman's voiceover hits the mark beautifully, too. Not too sentimental; not too cutesy. And the cinematography - the savage beauty of the terrain was, to coin a tired old chestnut - absolutely breathtaking. Funnily enough, I was left with two main thoughts: how the innate compulsion to breed and further its own species is paramount to all successful forms of life - so much so, it appears that this alone is the purpose behind life itself; and wondering if perhaps so many of man's woes, in the materially obsessed western civilisations, are the result of his having rather too much time on his hands and things being far too cushy. After all, it's hard to be bored or pander to self-indulgent navel-gazing when your next meal is seventy miles and four months of arctic blizzards away!

20th Dec 2005, 17:24
Just got back from viewing this at the sumptuous Duke Of York's (http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/site/cinemas/Brighton/local.htm) where the seats are dangerously comfortable. No danger of nodding off though as the spectacle is as gripping as the icy extremes it shows. Two separate parts to this really : One aspect, the photography of the blue ice background to the wind whipped subjects. The accompaniment is the narrative and narrator in classic National Geographic, Seventies Sunday afternoon style.
The photography of the landscape, seascape and icescape is beautiful, every trick in the picture book is used to bring the freezing atmosphere in to the cinema. My favourites were the so-low trajectory of the Antarctic spring sun, the line of trudging beaks paralleling the distant horizon, the fizzing underwater fireworks of the fishing penguins and of course the close-ups of the birds themselves.
The story told was one of those perfectly circular tales of life, birth, struggle, death and new life which has become the standard parable for natutal history. This one is extreme though in every way. The conditions faced by the penguins during the winter are bound to be harsh, but it's the sheer determination to survive and perpetuate that becomes the central theme. The seventy mile trips across the frozen desert to the sea for food on tiny shuffling feet, the co-operation of the continually rotating pack to offer maximum protection to all against the elements, the constant care of the precious young against the odds, all stand out as unique stories, even stacked up against the great standards of nature commentary.
Then, just as we get to the end of the film and I'm saying to myself, yes, but how did they actually get these shots, where's the "making of", the titles roll and along side them we get a sneaky peak at some brave cold souls wrapped up to complete orange anonimity standing very close to the parent penguins and their fluffy progeny. That shut me up then !

20th Dec 2005, 17:29
I was glad they put in those 'making of shots' at the end too, it was amazing how close they got - and to that leopard seal, I wouldn't want to be anywhere near one of those!.