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March of the Penguins (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

March of the Penguins


Starring the Emperor Penguins.

Narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Narration written by Jordan Roberts.

Directed by Luc Jacquet.

Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures. 80 minutes. Rated G.

Director Luc Jacquet has made a beautiful film out of the hardships of wildlife. On it he took a year to follow hundreds of penguins as they go through their mating rituals. It is quite amazing that a film crew could get so up close and personal with the animals over such an extended time, however the film crew spent months documenting the minutiae of the process and the incredible lengths that they go to just to give birth.

That’s it. There are no cars, no planes, no modern life or technology whatsoever. It is merely the triumph of nature over incredible obstacles.

The amount of the filmmaker’s input in shaping the situations is a little hazy – for the most part it plays like a straight nature documentary, however the credits say that it is “based upon a screenplay by Luc Jacquet and Michel Fessler.”

Watching all the sufferings that the male and female penguins endure in order to have a baby, it is rather amazing that they continue to survive as a species. First, hundreds must trudge for about 70 miles over the frozen tundra to a safe spot where the ice is thick enough to stay safe in the coming months. They go through a month-long courtship ritual. When the eggs are hatched about a month later, they must be carefully transferred from the mothers to the fathers, who must shield them from the bitter cold and whipping storms until they hatch. Then the mothers must walk even farther back to get food. Eventually, when the chicks are ready to hatch, the mothers must trudge back yet again to feed the babies. They must avoid predators like seals and birds, extreme weather and months of starvation. Then the fathers, who haven’t eaten in over four months, must take the long trek. Dozens of the parents and chicks do not survive the experience.

All of this is explained by the soothing, familiar voice of Morgan Freeman. (The narration was written by Jordan Roberts, scribe of The Road to Perdition and Around the Bend.) Apparently, this is a change from the original French version of the film, where three narrators apparently spoke in the voice of the penguins. This simplification to one generic (non-penguin) narrator was probably a wise move, talking penguins would probably change the film into a more cartoonish experience. The voice-over imparts interesting information and frankly often alerts us to the significance of much of what we are seeing. It’s not always really exciting viewing, but for the most part it is fascinating, with a certain amount of danger and intrigue built up just by the dangers of the wild.

Your tolerance for this all will depend on your love of wildlife. The Emperor Penguins are stately and beautiful, and their chicks are adorable, but some people could say that there is only so much waddling around on ice that you can watch.

Those people would be missing the point, though. A wise man once said that film enables you to see events that you would never be able to see otherwise. I’m willing to bet that very few people in the world have ever experienced the circumstances brought to light in March of the Penguins. (6/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: June 3, 2005.

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