March of the Penguins
Deep in one of Earth's darkest and most desolate regions lives the Emperor Penguin. Every year, without fail, these black and white members of the bird family fling themselves out of the rich waters of the ocean and waddle across the harsh plains of Antarctica toward their traditional breeding grounds. Marching in a single line or sliding along on their bellies, they make the arduous trip, sometimes 70 miles in distance.
For most of their history, it has been a quiet, unobserved event.
Then French director Luc Jacquet and his team of National Geographic photographers, Jerome Maison and Laurent Chalet, loaded up cameras and equipment in order to follow and film this unimaginable migration. Spending a year isolated from the rest of the world, the men worked in subzero conditions and 100 mile per hour winds on order to capture the personalities and routines of their animal subjects. With only a few months preparation, the crew arrived in time to record the beginning of the expedition.
By late February, summer is coming to an end on the South Pole. Soon the water will freeze over and winter winds will start to howl. After weeks of heavy feeding, hundreds of penguins head home to engage in a ritualistic courtship that eventually finds them paired off. While not monogamous for life, this faithful relationship will last about nine months.
Once the mother lays a single egg, she transfers the fragile cargo to the care of the father. The exchange process must be carefully rehearsed in order to keep the egg from being exposed to the bitter cold for too long. Sitting with the unborn chick nestled on top of his feet in his warm incubating pocket, the father endures the next several weeks of severe winter weather without food while mom heads back to the open seas for nourishment.
The patient process of hatching new life is magnified by the birds' incredible sacrifices on the wind-swept archipelago. Their survival story is one of amazing endurance, cooperation and some seemingly tender exchanges.
The documentary, with voice over by Morgan Freeman, also explores the harsh realities that face the chicks once they break out of their shells. Leaving the protective pouch of their parents takes time and often a little encouragement. They also have to deal with the migratory predators who make their way back to the island in early spring. Above all, they have to learn how to survive on their own once mom and dad head off to feed.
Set against Antarctica's pristine background, the March of the Penguins is a remarkable narrative. Paying homage to these rugged royals, the movie is a testament to the resilient nature of the Emperor Penguins who reign in the land of ice and snow.