March of the Penguins

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Warning! I give away the plot of this documentary and what happens to the penguins in the end.

      March of the Penguins is already a phenomenon. Not only is it one of the few breakout hits of the summer but it's a documentary! It has already grossed almost $20 million and has been in the top-ten box-office films for the past two weeks. Why is a film about penguins doing so well? It is because as Morgan Freeman who narrates this film, says, this is a story about survival but it is also a story about love. March of the Penguins shows us the Emperor penguins and their almost unbelievable lives. This film documents a year in the lives of a group of Emperor penguins. They have developed a method of procreation that is beyond belief. When it comes time to mate, the penguins leave the ocean, where they have been fattening themselves up all summer, and walk 70 miles, yes that's not a typo, 70 miles to their mating grounds. Now penguins don't walk that well, so it takes them a week of non-stop walking. Once there, the male and female penguins hook up. There are fewer males than females (more on why later) so the females can all get pregnant. The penguins are monogamous for the year but pick different partners each mating season. Nevertheless, the bond between the male and female penguins is deep and is hard not to describe in terms of love. The couples stand together, engage in extensive foreplay and eventually make an egg. Then, the unbelievable part begins. The female holds the egg on top of her feet because even a brief moment of contact with the ground will freeze the egg solid. Did I mention the temperature is a bit cold? She passes the egg over to the male and then because she has lost 1/3 of her body weight producing the egg, she must leave. There is nothing to eat at the mating grounds except what is brought in the penguins stomachs. So the females all walk back to the shore, 70 miles away. The males are left to keep the eggs warm through the darkness of the Antarctic winter. By the time the eggs hatch and the females return, another 70 mile walk, the males have been without food for 4 months. These are great husbands! When the females finally return and take over raising the chicks, the starving males must then walk the 70 miles back to get a meal. This is why there are fewer males than females. When the chicks are big enough, everyone must walk the 70 miles to the ocean and then learn how to swim and feed. Watching the penguins walk single file across the Antarctic waste did remind me of two other films. Danny Devito must have watched similar footage in preparing to play The Penguin in Batman Returns. He did it perfectly. The other movie, I thought of, was The Fifth Element. In the first scene where the aliens visit and get caught in the pyramid, they also do the walk.

      My description above does not do justice to this documentary but I hope your interest will be piqued enough to go and see March of the Penguins. Along with the amazing story of the penguins lives, the documentary is beautifully filmed, and is constructed to let the penguins tell their own story, with minimal but wonderful narration from Morgan Freeman. It is so well presented that you forget that through the whole sunless winter on the ice with temperatures of -85 degrees and 100 mile an hour winds, there were cameramen there, freezing along with the penguins. It is a nice touch that during the closing credits, they show footage of the cameramen in action. Luc Jacquet is the writer/director of March of the Penguins and he does an amazing job in his first documentary. But the penguins are the stars of this film. The Emperor penguins are so beautiful yet ungainly and seem to have so many human-like emotions. March of the Penguins is great for the whole family, although there is some anguish when some chicks die. Finally, I challenge anyone to see this film and then argue that animals evolve through Intelligent Design. The only explanation for the weird and wonderful behavior of the Emperor penguins is random adaptation as the climate of Antarctica became colder and colder over the millennia. This film is a must see.