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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 34.95%
Average: 8.74%
Pretty Bad: 7.77%
Total Crap: 10.68%

9 reviews, 49 user ratings

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March of the Penguins
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Anthropomorphic mush; naturally, it was a big hit."
2 stars

It's possible that the human race is the only species narcissistic enough to see itself in every other species. As a pet owner myself, I can relate, but what we read as our pets' love might, for all we know, just be self-preservational loyalty to the big animal that's feeding them.

In the French documentary March of the Penguins, an international sleeper hit that took America by storm, the Emperor penguins of the Antarctic are imbued, as in a standard Disney nature film, with emotions we can't know for sure if they really have. The new English narration, prepared by Jordan Roberts and read with predictable gravitas by Morgan Freeman, keeps selling us on the penguins' similarity to us. It's a rather offensively human-centered approach to what should be a mystifying and beautiful experience.

To be fair, it could have been worse, and it reportedly was worse in director Luc Jacquet's original French version (La marche de l'empereur), which according to Variety used "actors Romane Bohringer and Charles Berling to voice penguins murmuring sweet nothings to each other." (Someone get me a barf bag.) Here, the only voice heard is Morgan Freeman, who once played God and now functions as a godlike presence, telling the story of the waddling critters with an air of detached sadness when required, sometimes a hint of amusement when the funny little guys flop down on their tummies. Either way, the effect is to cheapen the footage, which is striking enough on its own.

Much is made of the harshness of the penguins' quest, wherein they must walk 70 miles to a place where the ice is thick enough to support mating. Eggs are laid, and the mothers take off for food while the fathers stand around sheltering the eggs, and eventually the hungry chicks, for four months while the mothers gather fish. Then the fathers take off and the mothers take over the "parenting," and eventually the chicks are left all alone until they, too, are ready to make the journey back to where the penguins started from. The presumptuous narration never misses a chance to jerk tears: "This is the first time the father has broken his bond with the chick. It is not an easy thing to do." Really? How do we know? Did Jacquet interview the daddy penguins?

God only knows how Jacquet and his crew withstood the freezing environment and gained the penguins' trust enough to allow such intimate footage. I can applaud March of the Penguins as a technical feat; the photography by Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison captures the savage beauty of the Antarctic as well as the details of the penguins' fur, and Sabine Emiliani edits the footage with an organic sense of suspense and grandeur. On that level it's a step up from the stuff you might see on Animal Planet or a National Geographic special. But then here comes Freeman glossing over the deaths of tired penguins who can't endure the journey: they don't die, they "disappear" or "fade away." When a mother's chick freezes to death, "the pain of her loss is unimaginable." We're told that "love can find a way even here in the harshest place on Earth." It's certainly not anything so mundane as the biological imperative.

And what about leopard seals? Don't they have to eat and feed their young, too? Doesn't their "love" count? Here, they become bad guys slaughtering the mommy penguins before they can make it back to feed their chicks, and Freeman intones gravely, "They have taken two lives -- the mother, and the chick who will starve without her food." And, presumably, the poor sad-sack daddy penguin, too, waiting around for four months for his regurgitated fish meal. (Three! Three are the lives taken by the leopard seal evildoers...) Heck, what about the fish -- don't they have young to feed, enduring love in a harsh place, and so on? No, they apparently willingly swim into the mommy penguin's beak, because they know those cute little chicks are squealing for chow.

"March of the Penguins" is great footage in a shotgun wedding to a sappily anthropomorphized point of view. It'll play far better on DVD, where you can watch the making-of featurette, turn the sound down on the narration, and put on some Philip Glass or something.

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originally posted: 12/25/06 05:17:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/16/14 Peter M Great subject turned into sentimental nonsense. Three times over length 3 stars
3/23/10 John Wow! Talk about a grouchy review. For unemotional info, get a textbook, not a film. 5 stars
11/08/09 joel try's to make penguins look like humans 1 stars
5/21/09 Luis Alvarez Really boring. I ended up making fun of of the penguins "sadness." 1 stars
1/13/09 Anonymous. i learned alot about penguins watching this. 4 stars
1/21/08 deborah mclean ditto on what brian said 5 stars
6/19/07 Jessiika I really like it and thought it was great :D Penguins are cute hahaha 4 stars
5/23/07 isha boring more exciting please 1 stars
1/13/07 David Pollastrini they're cuuuuuute! 5 stars
12/06/06 chienne I work in Mental Health. Enough said. 4 stars
8/10/06 Dragon The Artist An overrated mushfest,I dont understand why so many people adore it. 1 stars
7/29/06 David Cohen A brilliant antidote for the Disney "nature loves everyone" mentality 5 stars
7/01/06 Gerry Irons Amazing Filming-but thought it sensationalized penguins deaths-penguins die allot we get it 2 stars
6/12/06 millersxing Jacquet brings the penguins; Freeman brings the gravitas--and that's documentary gold. 4 stars
6/08/06 Peggy Doty INTERESTING 5 stars
6/04/06 michael Not just a kids movie either 4 stars
6/03/06 San Lamar i liked it 5 stars
5/27/06 lasharee davis It was very interresting 5 stars
4/29/06 Sheila Spectacular 5 stars
3/03/06 Tanya Beautiful, yet touching, I enjoyed it. great documentary 5 stars
2/25/06 PAG Overrated. Somewhat interesting, but no more than the average Discovery Channel doc. 3 stars
2/21/06 Anne Gallick I never suspected that the live of a penguin was so miserable. This movie is a cryfest. 3 stars
12/20/05 Martin I liked the penguins. 4 stars
12/11/05 Phil M. Aficionado Fascinating in all respects, and an astounding undertaking to film it. Beautiful too. 5 stars
10/20/05 Agent Sands Your obligated to see this if you're an animal lover like me. 4 stars
10/10/05 Jenny Chen A marverous movie 5 stars
9/09/05 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne ALMOST made me forget that Morgan Freeman twice co-starred with Trashley Dudd! 5 stars
9/09/05 John great story in eth tradition of the old Disney Nature documentaries 4 stars
9/05/05 Daryl Walker This is an adorable and fascinating documentary. 4 stars
8/28/05 jenjenmarie absolutely amazing. a true documentary that anyone can enjoy 5 stars
8/28/05 DM The kind of movie where you keep asking, "How did they get that footage?" 4 stars
8/25/05 Smitty Absolutely beautiful, see it in a theater, not on video, but a real bore-ass of a movie. 2 stars
8/25/05 Tom Benton As far as documentaries go, "March of the Penguins" is wonderful. 5 stars
8/23/05 chris. nothing i didn't know before, but i'm a nerd. i'm glad this gives a large audience a look 5 stars
8/21/05 flipst0oge it was so 1 stars
8/18/05 Ilana Sprongl Wonderful film about that most amaizing creature, the penguin. 5 stars
8/15/05 Mark This was the best nature documentary i have ever seen 5 stars
7/30/05 clinger26 You've got to see this documentary 5 stars
7/26/05 rachel fascinating! fabulous! intriguing! 5 stars
7/24/05 R.W. Welch Penguins outwit world's harshest environment. Nicely filmed and written. 4 stars
7/23/05 ajay wonderful story. everyone, yes EVERYONE should see this. 5 stars
7/23/05 Kristina Williams If only humans were so dedicated....... 5 stars
7/15/05 Jan K. A long way to walk with such short legs! 5 stars
7/14/05 Bill Joyner Outstanding Movie for everyone around the World. 5 stars
7/05/05 Brian Strilesky Eventually, as word travels, nearly everyone will end up seeing this amazing film. 5 stars
7/04/05 Ken Incredible movie. 5 stars
3/24/05 Rebekah Johnson Fabulous film! I loved it! Amazing footage and narration. 5 stars
1/27/05 lex Gidley Loved It!!! If it comes to America, it won't be a hit, but it is very entertaining. 5 stars
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  24-Jun-2005 (G)
  DVD: 29-Nov-2005



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Luc Jacquet

Written by
  Luc Jacquet
  Michel Fessler

  Morgan Freeman

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