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March of the Penguins[Next Page - Gator Country]
March 15, 2006

I finally got around to playing the March of the Penguins DVD that had been sitting on my coffee table for a couple of months. I thought it was a good nature documentary, just as good as other DVDs in my collection such as Survival Island, which is an IMAX film about the penguins and other wildlife on South Georgia Island.

That may sound like damning faint praise. After all, March of the Penguins won an Oscar, didn't it? I think what I'm saying is (and if I don't know then who does?) is there are a lot of great nature documentaries out there, and when the general public sees one of them instead of the network mush they usually see, they think it is the greatest thing ever made. It wouldn't be a bad idea to flip the channel from American Idol to Nature once in a while. For those who don't know, that's on PBS.

The images captured by the French filmmakers in March of the Penguins are top-notch and required a lot of dedication to endure the austral winter. I have heard that the original French narration was very cutesy, something which the Americanized version lapses into only occasionally. Still, I think the narration is aimed at a mass family audience. They could have been more straightforward with the script, but maybe that film wouldn't have won an Oscar.

A constant theme of March of the Penguins is that penguins have a tough life. They thrive in environments that would kill a man slowly (on land) or quickly (in the frigid ocean). Maybe the reason I wasn't completely blown away by the film is I already knew that. I've been to the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands, not far enough south to see the big Emperor penguins shown in the film, but far enough to experience thousands of medium-sized Gentoos, Adelies and Chinstraps. Some of their behaviour differs from that of the Emperors, but I can say I have been in a real, live, stinky, noisy penguin colony. The little penguins didn't have to walk 70 miles as depicted in the film, but often they had to walk on stubby legs several miles up rocky cliffs to get to their nests. We didn't see any dead penguins laying around as they show in the movie, but seeing a skua steal an egg from a Chinstrap on Half Moon Island gave us some idea of the vigilance that the parents need to have.

Gentoo, Neko Harbor on the Antarctic Peninsula, 2003.

The extras on the DVD include a "Making of" video that isn't much different from the feature except for more humans and more dead penguins, an episode of National Geographic "Crittercam" showing diving Emperors at a different location, the movie trailer, and the Bugs Bunny cartoon "8 Ball Bunny" which includes a penguin character. I guess the inclusion of Bugs plays up the "family film" angle, but if they wanted a penguin cartoon why wouldn't they go after Chilly Willy?

By all means buy or rent "March of the Penguins." But don't let it be the only nature documentary you see this month.

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