out of Five
Running time: 85
Opens London Film Festival: 25th October
General release: 9th December
March of the Penguins is undeniably gorgeous to look at but it doesn’t amount to much more than 85 minutes of Ooh, look at the cute penguins.
March of the Penguins was a surprise box office smash when it opened in the U.S during the summer.
It’s not hard to see the appeal – after all, who doesn’t love to look at penguins? However, the film-makers miss several opportunities to make this something really special.
Directed by Frenchman Luc Jacquet and narrated (in the U.S version) by Morgan Freeman, the film took over a year to make and was filmed in extremely harsh conditions in Antarctica. It was then edited down from over 120 hours of footage to an arse-friendly 85 minutes.
The film charts the annual cycle of the emperor penguins of Antarctica, beginning with their 70-mile march from the sea to their mating grounds (the bleak, uninhabited area where their lives began). They walk in single file, often travelling on their bellies, enduring winds of up to 100 mph and sub-zero temperatures. When they finally reach the mating grounds they undergo a series of elaborate mating rituals before pairing off into monogamous couples and mating.
But the crazy penguin madness doesn’t stop there. Once the egg is laid, the female penguins nick off back to the sea where they swim around, eating and having a great time, whilst the males are left to hatch the eggs.
After two months, the eggs hatch and the females return with food, at which point the males begin a constant trek to the sea and back in order to gather enough food to keep the penguin chicks in the style to which they’ve become accustomed.
There are two main problems with the film. Firstly, the penguins have been anthropomorphised too much, yet the film-makers never focus on a particular penguin to root for, which would be the logical extension of that idea.
Secondly, it’s been horribly sanitised, as if all the good bits have been removed for a pre-watershed TV screening. We do, in fact, get to see penguins doing it, but the narration neglects to mention it, lest children in the audience start asking awkward questions.
In short, March of the Penguins is undeniably spectacular to look at and it tells an impressive story, but the film feels vaguely patronising and you’ll find yourself longing for David Attenborough to pop up and start telling it like it is. That said, kids will love it and it’s still worth seeing for the astonishing imagery.
March Of The Penguins (La Marche De L'Empereur) (U)