Tuesday, July 26, 2005

"March" to the Sea: The Penguins are Coming, the Penguins are Coming

It’s been obscenely hot here in normally-temperate L.A.—the perfect time, really, to see a movie about penguins braving temperatures of –60 to –80°F (*plus* windchill) in order to propagate and raise their young. I must confess that for at least the first half of the movie, I viewed Antarctica with something closer to relief and yearning than to apprehension. Having sweltered several nights in an apartment without A/C, I shivered not with empathy but with pure delight at the first sight of those massive blocks of ice rising out of a distant, frigid sea.

Polar pleasures aside, “March of the Penguins” is well worth seeing. Director Luc Jacquet and his team have somehow managed to capture a stupendously intimate look at the annual breeding cycle of the emperor penguin, through shot after breathtaking shot that will have any viewer marveling either “How did they get so *close*?” or “*Damn*, those must have been some good cameras!” The story, too, is spellbinding, given that no other animal on this planet seems to have quite as raw a deal as l’empereur when it comes to the survival of the species. (I’m reminded of the moment in “Madagascar” where those penguins, confronted with the icy landscape of the South Pole, simply comment, “This sucks!”)

“Marche” does have a slightly silly tendency to sentimentalize and anthropomorphize the penguins’ saga, which is plenty riveting on its own terms. Still, the impulse is understandable. After all, few animals, and certainly no birds, are quite as human-like as the penguin, and none as natural an entertainer: the rows upon rows of penguins waddling towards the breeding-grounds, shot from a distance, resemble nothing so much as a crowd of tiny people dressed in black, with black hoods and white waistcoats. And though it’s hard not to roll our eyes when we’re told that this is a “story of love” and that “the loss [of a chick] is unbearable,” the words sound somehow less absurd when they’re intoned by Morgan Freeman, who does the voice-over for the American version. (Freeman, I’ve concluded, could pretty much persuade most movie audiences to walk off a cliff if he tried.) By all accounts, the English-language narrative is much less absurd than the fake penguin dialogue that (I kid you not) was manufactured for the original French version. At any rate, it certainly isn’t intrusive enough to get in the way of the miraculous narrative at the film’s core. Besides...there is nothing on earth cuter than those fuzzy gray baby penguins.

RATING: ***

1 Comments:

Blogger badxmaru said...

thanks for the review, i'm definitely set on watching it now

9:27 PM  

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