What made this documentary so fascinating to me was the way the filmmakers dramatized the life-and-death struggle of the penguins against their harsh environment. They are flightless birds who are graceful in water, but awkward on land. I was astonished at how hard it is for them just to propagate their species.
The movie doesn't single out individual penguins; instead it chronicles several months in the lives of a whole tribe of them. The title comes from the fact that the birds trek en masse about 60 miles over land from the sea to their breeding ground. Most of the time they walk upright with a shuffling gait. However, the documentary doesn't show much footage of the journey itselfmost of the film is taken up with depicting the birds' behavior at the breeding ground, where amid great hardship eggs are laid and chicks are hatched.
One of the things I like best about "March of the Penguins" is that it stays focused on the birds. Humans don't appear on camera at all, except during the closing credits. Another thing that drew me into the movie was Morgan Freeman's narration. His voice has a world-weary quality that made him the perfect choice to narrate this documentary, which I would describe as ultimately being about mortality, sacrifice and renewal.
The "March of the Penguins" DVD contains a 54-minute making-of titled "Of Penguins and Men" that I found worth watching. This shows what the intrepid French crew had to endure to get the footage used in the documentary. The making-of is narrated in English spoken with a slight French accent. Actually, the Americanized "March of the Penguins" evolved from "La Marche de l'empereur," a more lighthearted French-language take on the same material where some of the penguins appeared to talk.
Also on the DVD is a 23-minute National Geographic feature on emperor penguins. I didn't much like the relentlessly upbeat, breathless style of this feature, but it did show me some aspects of the penguins that are not covered in the feature documentary. For example, there are pictures taken by a camera mounted on a penguin's back as the bird swims in the sea.
In addition, the DVD contains a classic Bugs Bunny color cartoon that is seven minutes long, and I got some chuckles out of it. In the cartoon, Bugs goes to a lot of trouble to get a penguin he encounters in New York back to the South Pole, only to find out the bird is from Hoboken.
Below I've listed all the details for the "March of the Penguins" Widescreen Edition DVD. There is also a Full-Screen Edition, which differs only in the aspect ratio of the feature film.
Release Date: November 29, 2005
Feature Film Run Time: 1 hr. 20 min.
Widescreen (1.85:1), Color
MPAA Rating: G
English 5.1 Dolby Digital
Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital
Of Penguins and Men (54 min.)
National Geographic's Crittercam: Emperor Penguins (23 min.)
Classic Looney Tunes Cartoon: 8 Ball Bunny (7 min.)