Wednesday 22 February 2006

March of the Penguins (2005) - ickleReview (cinema)

Enchanting National Geographic feature-length documentary about the breeding cycle of empire penguins in the Antarctic. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, the tendency is to anthropomorphize the penguins' behaviour, imbuing them with emotions of loneliness, love and grief. They are a remarkably resilient species. Director Luc Jacquet shapes the footage into an epic narrative, but leaves plenty of breathing space to let the pictures make their own impression. It is a compelling story and some of the photography is stunningly beautiful and poignant - from the close-up intimacy of the male and female when they have found their annual mate (it's a distortion to call it "monogamy", even though they have only one partner each year), to the ethereal underwater feeding of the mothers, to the other-wordly time-lapse shot of the southern lights in the winter sky.

The last ten or twenty minutes of the film feel a bit rushed, once the chicks are old enough to take care of themselves, but this acceleration is a necessity to keep the running time under 90 minutes to make it family-friendly viewing.

The penguins do look funny, like little butlers in morning jackets, but that is partly because we've seen them so often in comic advertisements with human voice-overs. It has all the polish one would expect of the world's favourite doctor's and dentist's waiting-room magazine, but, on the whole, it avoids being twee.

Nugget: a beautiful and endearing film which makes you smile with joy, especially for the first half hour.

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