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March of the Penguins

In the harshest place on Earth, love finds a way 

Year: 2005 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC U Cert – Universal 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from March of the Penguins

Director: Luc Jacquet

Starring: Morgan Freeman (narrator), lots of penguins

To the casual observer, or more to the point someone trying to make a clever comparison, March of the Penguins has much in common with the Spielberg and Cruise megabucks sci-fi War of the Worlds. Aside from the lack of an expected The at the beginning of each title, both too portray a non-human mass trampling over land, seemingly unstoppable to anything and everything thrown at them, in their quest to inhabit new territory. Less tenuously, both also are narrated in the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman.

This analogy is not merely for show, as Luc Jacquet’s documentary has more in common with a Hollywood blockbuster than it does with the current trend of ‘shockumentaries’ from Michael Moore and his Moore-alikes. Firstly there is the sheer spectacle of it all; the Antarctic wilderness is breathtakingly photographed as the almost monochromatic landscape does its best to convey the full scale of the penguins’ task. Secondly, Freeman’s shameless anthropomorphising imbues these creatures with more emotion and ‘humanity’ than Keanu Reeves has displayed in his entire life. But what makes this journey so compelling is the way it is told as a classic Hollywood love story.

There is laughter, a penguin falling over will remain the funniest sight ever witnessed until the end of time, and there are tears, as the film captures the utter resignation of those couples who lose their egg to the fierce conditions and simply turn around and go home for another year. There is suspense, as the villainous seagulls try to pick off stragglers, and there is celebration, at the victorious hatchings of those eggs that made it. True to Hollywood form there is even a bit of sex thrown in, or, as a child near me in the cinema described it, ‘special hugging’.

Patronising, sentimental and saccharine it may be, March of the Penguins is forgiven all its flaws by making the animals themselves the stars. There isn’t an Irwin or Attenborough to be seen as what must be the most endearingly odd-looking creatures on Earth show how it’s done. Plus the babies are really cute.

Peter Lefort

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Screenings of this film:

2005/2006 Summer Term (35mm)