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Penguins 3D
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by Jay Seaver

"Even in Penguin City, it takes two incomes to feed a family."
4 stars

Going by what I find on IMDB (which is not always the safest thing to do), "Penguins 3D" appears to be what you get when you cut a British nature documentary, "The Penguin King 3D", down to half its length to play on museum IMAX screens that like to start a new movie on the hour, every hour. Things could be worse; it seems to be just fine at that length and narrator David Attenborough was not replaced for the American release (Tim Allen was considered, and I don't care to think what he would have done with the gassy elephant seals).

The king penguins that the movie follows are not native to Antarctica, but rather the island of South Georgia, about a thousand miles away from any human habitation. It's mostly a rocky, inhospitable place, aside from the beach, where millions of black-and-white birds make up "Penguin City", though there are other inhabitants as well. As the movie begins, a male penguin who has been out fishing for three years comes ashore, finds a mate, and then they alternate watching the egg (and later chick) while the other goes out to catch fish. Well, at least until the kid's appetite becomes so great that they have to place the chick in day care while both go fishing.

Reading that synopsis, it's natural to ask why the world needs this movie when March of the Penguins already exists, and it's a fair question; they cover a lot of the same ground. March wasn't shot in 4K 3D and wasn't presented in IMAX , though, and that does add something to the experience. While the 3D is in the "nice to have, but not essential" category - there are only a few scenes where the heightened depth really makes itself known - the scale and clarity of the large-format projection are very nice: Penguin City is filled with individual birds, as opposed to being a vast smear of black and white with some yellow and brown spots.

Like a lot of movies built to play the science museum circuit, it's built with kids firmly in mind; there's a sequence where three penguins who landed on the wrong side of the beach are apparently puzzled at how to get around three massive elephant seals, especially since their flatulence seems to form a powerful barrier (one does wonder, considering how much this was apparently cut down, what got cut so that could stay in). It does get surprisingly intense at times, though, as two of the best uses of 3D could easily show up in horror movies: There's a shot of a leopard seal swimming after a group of penguins that reminds the audience that these cute, sleek creatures are also carnivorous predators; in another scene, a skewer walks through the area like something out of Jurassic Park. David Attenborough (the brother of Park's Richard) narrates without speaking down to the audience.

In fact, he's a little harsh at times, but that actually gives "Penguins" a little more personality than many of the docs it shares screens with - a hint of "kids are cute but they eat you out of house and home" frustration. It's a welcome bit of prickliness in a genre that is often beautiful but bland, even if the movie is mostly a bigger version of familiar material.

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originally posted: 07/06/13 14:17:48
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  24-Oct-2012 (U)


Directed by
  Anthony Geffen
  Sias Wilson

Written by
  David Attenborough

  David Attenborough

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