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March of the Penguins (Widescreen Edition) (2005)

Documentary and Educational movie directed by Luc Jacquet

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And You Thought You Had it Tough!

  • Apr 7, 2006
  • by
Pros: An unflinching look at nature at work

Cons: None

The Bottom Line: If this movie doesnÂ’t put life into perspective for you nothing will.

Nature is cold, calculating, and unforgiving. Even we humans entrenched deep within our insulated lives (should) have come to that realization; live is not fair, nor was it meant to be. Life is what it is and each creature on the planet has to do what it needs to do to survive and promulgate the species, often time at the expense of the living. This lesson is born out in the much lauded March of the Penguins (2005), which saw huge box office success in the waning moments of 2005.

My wife and I kept scheduling a time to go see March of the Penguins (French title La Marche De L'Empereur) on the big screen, but something always came up, so we ended up watching it on DVD instead. But even though the viewing area was much smaller (32” television), the impact of the documentary was the same; by the end of the movie you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the majestic Emperor Penguins and their almost joyless task of giving birth to the next generation in the intense cold of Antarctica.

Directed by Luc Jacquet and narrated by Morgan Freeman, March of the Penguins follows one year in the lives of a group of emperor penguins at the bottom of the world. The movie starts in the Spring as the penguins stuffed from feeding leap from the icy water, find a mate, and trek over snow and ice covered land some 80 miles to place of their birth to try to hatch a chick. The area is somewhat protected from the harshness of winter by high valley walls, which is one of the reasons the penguins make the yearly journey there. The other reason is the area is away from the thin ice of the coast, and also far away from the penguins’ biggest predator, the mammoth sea loin.

After the penguins find a mate, the pair work together to produce and then protect a single egg. Once laid, the egg is passed from the female to the male in an intricate dance that doesn’t always succeed. If the egg is successfully passed the female penguins walk some 80 miles back to the ocean feed their starving and exhausted bodies. But they will be back hopefully with enough (regurgitated) food for the hatchlings.

Once the females have all departed the male emperor’s cluster together, one great big slowly undulating black and white mass in the gathering cold of the Antarctic summer. Their job is to protect the egg(s) from the elements; by huddling together they keep the eggs and themselves warm. And they shift from time to time allowing the birds at the outer edges of the circle to move deeper within, all the while balancing the precious eggs on their claws underneath their bodies. If the egg is exposed—even minutely—to the cold air it will freeze, killing the developing penguin fetus.

After a four month gestation period the newly formed penguin chicks emerge from their shells, decidedly pink, vulnerable and hungry. If all goes as planned, about the time the chicks hatch, the mothers return to feed the hatchlings, and spell the fathers who then return to the ocean to feed; bear in mind the males have not eaten for almost six months and by this time they are starving to death. After they feed, they return and the family bonds for a short time before both mother and father leave the chicks on their own and return to the ocean. The new Emperors are left to find their way in the world, and whole cycle repeats in late spring, thus a species survives.

There is of course a human back story to this compelling movie, one that saw the film crew brave the same elemental conditions as the penguins albeit for shorter periods of time. Still, I have an enormous well of respect for these pioneers who risked their lives to bring us this story.

But the main story belongs to the heroic penguins who are in the end just playing out nature’s design for them, much as we live out the path nature set for us. After watching March of the Penguins I was beset by thoughts about the sometime utter futility of live. And of course a deeper question presented itself: what is it all for? I wonder if the Emperors in their yearly sojourn have such thoughts, or are such musings reserved for humans.

But I digress…

March of the Penguins is a movie to watch with the kiddies if possible; perhaps it will help them gain a new perspective on live, if only for a moment. It will help them, and us see that our lives are not so bad in comparison.


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More March of the Penguins (2005) reviews
review by . December 17, 2008
Nothing short of a standard documentary with excellent narration by Morgan Freeman, all the hype this movie garnered seems a little lost on us. Surely it was an epic to make, but many films are that way.  The movie really got us thinking about animal patterns and even more so internal instincts.  As highly (and often over) reasoning humans, we sometimes forget that we are animals programmed by a greater force to survive and function.  But we're not just talking about the …
review by . January 02, 2009
This acclaimed documentary follows penguins in Antarctica over a nine-month period, beginning with a grueling, 70-mile march to their ancestral breeding ground. Once there, they find mates and each couple produces a single egg. The males protect the egg and baby chick while the females return to the sea to feed for a month. The parents take turns babysitting until one day, they just turn and walk away, leaving the young alone. Driven by instinct and hunger, the chicks march to the sea and begin …
review by . January 21, 2007
Simply intriguing documentary about the life of penguins in Antartica and how they breed. The journey that both the male and female each take in the frigid cold is simply mind boggling. The camerea work is just superb especially in such frigid harsh weather. How did the camera men endure such hardship?     It was just amazing watching the male and female penguin pass the eggs back and forth protecting the egg. Interesting how penguins survive for months without food and waht …
review by . May 16, 2006
March of the Penguins definitely gives me more information than I wanted to know about this hardy group of flightless birds. I prefer to see cute little pictures of happy penguin families than to have my idyllic vision of their life be disturbed by seeing the arduous travails they endure just to survive.    Their lives are spent either trudging for miles over icy to get to the ocean to find food, or standing on a frigid piece of ground balancing an egg on their feet. With the …
review by . May 09, 2006
posted in Movie Hype
If this movie were made in the seventies, it would be called "Everything You Wanted to Know About Penguins, but Didn't Think to Ask," and it wouldn't match the splendor of "March of the Penguins". What makes this movie transcend the usual nature movies like the old Disney features, "Vanishing Prairie," et. al, is that it is exquisitely filmed, smoothly narrated (by Morgan Freeman) and fascinatingly focused. (The life cycle of Antarctic penguins is documented for one year, so it flows like a story.) …
review by . December 01, 2005
As a moment of respite and perspective in a world cluttered with tribal warfare, human responses to natural disasters, and the garish flames of politics, MARCH OF THE PENGUINS reminds us of the eternal cycle of life, life perpetuated against all manner of foes and odds, and helps us re-center our blurring focus. This eloquently beautiful film, a documentary that goes well beyond the genre limitations, is a work of art by Director Luc Jacquet and his fearless crew of photographers, and as art should, …
review by . July 14, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Photography, Morgan Freeman narration, beautifully filmed     Cons: None     The Bottom Line: Well directed and filmed nature documentary. Worthy of seeing on the big screen for the beauty of the penguins and their habitat.     It's been a loooonnngg time since I went to see a G rated film at the movies. But the subject matter of this film overrode any preconceptions I had about being bored. Although this was a "G" film, there were …
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Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #187
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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About this movie


March of the Penguins instantly qualifies as a wildlife classic, taking its place among other extraordinary films likeMicrocosmosandWinged Migration. French filmmaker Luc Jacquet and his devoted crew endured a full year of extreme conditions in Antarctica to capture the life cycle of Emperor penguins on film, and their diligence is evident in every striking frame of this 80-minute documentary. Narrated in soothing tones by Morgan Freeman, the film focuses on a colony of hundreds of Emperors as they return, in a single-file march of 70 miles or more, to their frozen breeding ground, far inland from the oceans where they thrive. At times dramatic, suspenseful, mischievous and just plain funny, the film conveys the intensity of the penguins' breeding cycle, and their treacherous task of protecting eggs and hatchlings in temperatures as low as 128 degrees below zero. There is some brief mating-ritual violence and sad moments of loss, butMarch of the Penguinsremains family-friendly throughout, and kids especially will enjoy the Antarctic blue-ice vistas and the playful, waddling appeal of the penguins, who can be slapstick clumsy or magnificently graceful, depending on the circumstances. A marvel of wildlife cinematography, this unique film offers a front-row seat to these amazing creatures, balancing just enough scientific information with the entertaining visuals.--Jeff Shannon
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Director: Luc Jacquet
Genre: Documentary
DVD Release Date: November 29, 2005
Runtime: 80 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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