Warner Bros. // 2005 // 80 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // April 9th, 2007
In a time when Hollywood contrivances persist in overrunning the majority of movie houses, every now and then a truly entertaining and enlightening film experience emerges. This time, the film comes without bias, without malice, and without ambition. And when a picture of this sort refrains from the usual preaching or politicking, it succeeds mightily, leaving all others to ponder their perceptions and prejudices over what makes for a good film.
Here's one now.
Documentarian Luc Jacquet and his team braved the harsh Antarctic region to tell the story of the region's emperor penguin, a creature that remained at the Earth's lower pole long after the continent broke away from the larger Gondwana (around 40 MYA) and ice began to cover its surface. Thanks to an astonishing instinct to persevere, each year the penguin population makes a 70 mile trek -- on foot, with occasional belly slides -- from the ocean to a preferred mating and breeding ground. Their method is deliberate and the task is daunting, the frigid winds blowing up to 100 mph as the penguins make their annual journey. Upon arrival, they select mates, breed, and await the egg. When the egg is berthed, the female passes it off to the male, entrusting him to huddle it upon his feet and keep it warm for the entire gestation period. The female then makes the journey back to the ocean to fill herself with food, then return, expecting to find a newly hatched baby chick to feed and nurture. The unforgiving Antarctic cold, however, will claim a number of the offspring despite the male penguin's most valiant efforts.
If truth is stranger than fiction, then this tale of nature, unaffected and unadorned, is compelling material in its own right. And, so, March of the Penguins is a striking film that works diligently to avoid preference and prejudice, allowing us to witness the emperor penguin in its natural habitat as it exercises its innate call to sustain the species. There are no maladjusted mastodons here, no surly saber-tooth tigers, and definitely no happy feet; this film has no need for any of those trappings. What unfolds is a well-constructed, impeccably photographed revelation of a species that endures the worst nature can muster. Morgan Freeman's excellent narration and Alex Wurman's soothing score provide continuity and additional interest to the experience, making this a fun and pleasingly informative endeavor. Even more pleasing is the fact that this G-rated picture became the surprise hit of 2005 and secured the Oscar for Best Documentary, all without a single bit of toilet humor forced in.
If you've already seen the film (and many reading this particular review likely have), you're likely curious whether the high-definition treatment will make a difference to the overall enjoyment of March of the Penguins. Simply, yes. As previously noted, the photography is stellar, and this Blu-ray disc's representation of that work is top notch. Presented in a 1080p / VC-1 encode, framed at 1.85:1, the image quality is excellent. The cool blues and stark whites are so well rendered that you can practically feel a chill coming from your HD monitor. As this was photographed using film and not managed via an HD capture method, you can expect to see a certain amount of film grain, which is rarely distracting and actually lends pleasing texture to the picture. The grain does increase during the harsh windstorm sequences (further conveying the power of the 100mph blasts) and during the time-lapse sequences depicting the magnificent Northern Lights. Also, expect a bit of cross-hatching imposed by the underwater sub camerawork. Overall, though, the majority of the imagery is stunning, from the frigid landscape scenes to the incredible close-ups of the penguins themselves. This is certainly a Tier 1 transfer. The audio, offered in a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix, is well balanced, although it won't emerge as any sort of high-powered aural assault (and it shouldn't, right?). You'll hear the winds whoosh around the soundstage and Wurman's score opens up amid the various channels, all while Freeman's mellifluous voice emanates clearly from the front channel.
Extras on the Blu-ray disc equate to the entire complement of bonus features made available on the previous Special Edition DVD. Therefore, you'll find the genuinely interesting 53-minute "documentary about the documentary," Of Penguins and Men. This makes for a great companion to the feature film in that it demonstrates the rigors that Jacque and his team faced while trying to capture their footage. Next up is the equally intriguing National Geographic's Crittercam: Emperor Penguins. Here, a production company heads to the Antarctic to capture the feeding behaviors of the penguins. With an eerie taste of Batman Returns, one particular penguin, Rodney, is fitted with a back-mounted camera rig to see what he sees. Then there's a somewhat out of place Looney Tunes short, 8-Ball Bunny, in which Bugs befriends a wayward penguin and has an encounter with a lampooned Humphrey Bogart. The final extra is the feature film's theatrical trailer.
It's so refreshing to see a film like March of the Penguins find a worldwide audience in this jaded and jockeyed age of filmmaking. It's an honestly enjoyable endeavor that will appeal to young and old, never patronizing nor preaching during its delivery. If you haven't seen it yet, take this Blu-ray edition for a spin -- it's an excellent vehicle to show off what the high-definition format can do.
Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Documentary: Of Penguins and Men
* National Geographic's Crittercam: Emperor Penguins
* Looney Tunes Short: 8-Ball Bunny
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site