A/V Room









March of the Penguins - Preview & US reaction

Preview by: Jack Foley

HARD as it may seem to believe, but a group of penguins could yet prove the financial winners at the American summer box office.

March of the Penguins is a low budget wildlife documentary that has taken America (quietly) by storm.

It focuses on the mating habits of the emperor penguin and, at one stage, was pulling in larger audiences at the few cinemas it was being distributed in than Tom Cruise's War of the Worlds and Batman Begins combined.

Indeed, its performance over two weeks of American release was so prolific that it went from 20 screens to 350 screens in the space of a week to cope with demand.

Needless to say, no one saw it coming but in its own small way, the documentary helped to ease the decline in summer ticket sales that marked the first half of the year at the US box office.

Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, has hailed it as 'awesome' and praised the word of mouth campaign that had helped March of the Penguins reach its wide audience.

The film is the work of French director, Luc Jacquet, and it follows the mating rituals of the emperor penguin, one of the most resilient animals on earth.

Each summer, after a nourishing period of deep-sea feeding, the penguins pop up onto the ice and begin their procession across the frozen tundra of Antarctica.

Walking in single file, they are a sight to behold. Hundreds converge from every direction, moving instinctively toward their mating ground. Once there, they mingle and chatter until they find the perfect mate - a monogamous match that will last a year, through the brutal winter and into the spring.

During that time, the mother will birth an egg and then leave for the ocean to feed again. The father will stay to protect the egg through the freezing blizzards and pure darkness of winter, which would be deadly to practically any other species. Finally, with spring, the egg hatches and the baby penguins are born.

Mothers return from the sea to reunite with their families and feed the starving newborns, while the fathers are finally relieved of their protective duties after months without food.

The film is remarkable in its story, which is narrated by Morgan Freeman, whose dignified voice gives the penguins the grave admiration they deserve.

But even more incredible is its photography, which shows the penguins hunting underwater, sliding on the ice, and in the midst of 'kissing'.

March of the Penguins will open in UK cinemas later this year.


US reaction

The penguins didn't only conquer audiences, but critics too, with many US journalists falling over themselves to hail this wildlife masterpiece.

The Houston Chronicle described it as 'a rousing affirmation of nature's brilliance in the face of environmental challenge'.

While Entertainment Weekly wrote that 'Luc Jacquet's exquisitely shot eye-of-God study of a year in the lives of these distinctive birds is a nature film built with a feel for the epic and a love of operatic narrative'.

Time Magazine referred to it as 'a gentle film about somewhat alien beings, who entertain us by creating instead of destroying'.

While USA Today felt that 'March of the Penguins captivates with its straightforward but powerful story of dogged determination, survival against harsh odds and sacrifice'.

And the Boston Globe opined: "Kids might blanch at some of the more upsetting images, but ultimately the movie will delight and uplift more families than it will scare."

Strong, too, was Variety, which noted that 'the spirit-lifting finale will delight auds hearty enough to brave the journey'.

While the San Francisco Chronicle wrote that 'it instills a deep reverence for the unforgiving power of nature and the stubborn resilience of life'.

The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, wrote that 'the stoic, resolute heroes and heroines of Luc Jacquet's March of the Penguins captivate the viewer'.

And the New York Times felt that 'it's impossible to watch the emperor penguins in Luc Jacquet's sentimental but riveting documentary without feeling a tug of anthropomorphic kinship'.

The final word, however, goes to the Chicago Sun-Times, which concludes this overview by stating: "When they fall over, they do it with a remarkable lack of style. And for all the walking they do, they're ungainly waddlers. Yet they are perfect in their way, with sleek coats, grace in the water and heroic determination."

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