Directed by Luc Jacquet, narrated by Morgan Freeman.
Sometimes, even before they hit these shores, films suffer from over-exposure and French documentary 'March of the Penguins' is a true case in point. This perfectly lovely, National Geographic-style film has been praised and over-hyped to the point of making an audience wonder what it's all about. This, in part, is due to American Christian Conservatives' espousal of the film and their determination to portray it as an affirmation of traditional norms like monogamy, self-sacrifice and child-rearing. Unfortunately these people don’t seem to realise that, in the words of a vice-president of its American distributors, Warner Independent Pictures: "You know what? They're just birds."
It took a full year for French director Luc Jacquet and his dedicated crew to film a colony of Emperor penguins in Antarctica, a place described by explorer Ernest Shackleton as "The coldest, windiest, driest and darkest continent on the planet." Each year hundreds of these penguins march, in single file, across 70 miles of snow and ice to the breeding ground where they mate. The filmmakers capture, remarkably, the sheer difficulty of protecting eggs and chicks in temperatures which plunge as low as -101°C. The penguin parents - monogamous for one year - take it in turn to look after their (admittedly winsomely cute) offspring, the other making the long dangerous trek back to the water for food.
It is, admittedly, a charming documentary, managing to convey the intensity of the penguins' breeding cycle in inclement conditions and, despite brief moments of violence, the birds seem to be affectionate with each other. This point is stressed in a measured voiceover from Morgan Freeman, which encourages the viewers to empathise with the penguins. The tagline - "In the harshest place on Earth, love finds a way" - further overplays the film's hand, which is more about nature finding a way.
Ultimately, 'March of the Penguins' is a marvel of wildlife cinematography, courtesy of camera operators Laurent Chalet and Jerôme Maison. While it doesn't quite live up to the life-affirming experience claimed by some American critics, no one wanting to see a remarkable documentary in the mould of 'Winged Migration' and 'Microcosmos' will walk away unhappy from the cinema.