Before I begin discussing this 3D Blu-Ray release, I should first tell you that it is actually an Americanized version of the British IMAX movie Penguins 3D. That release was a more straight-forward documentary with narration from David Attenborough (brother of Richard with a very similar voice.) This American release replaces him with Tim Allen, who takes on the persona of the main penguin the movie follows and voices it as if the penguin himself is telling the story through new dialogue written by Philip Lazebnik. As I found this out, I was surprised to learn that the 2005 US release of March of the Penguins, which was a surprise hit that made penguins movie stars, was an opposite re-working of a French film which originally had several voice-over performers acting as the penguins while the American version did away with that in favor of Morgan Freeman giving a more conventional narration on what was happening.
In Adventures of the Penguin King, all of which was shot on location on the island of South Georgia off the coast of Antarctica and having a slightly warmer climate, the focus is on one penguin named Rex in a large colony of other King penguins (the type followed in March of the Penguins were Emperors, for comparison) called Penguin City. Rex (Tim Allen) introduces himself and describes everything shown from his point of view. He's just returned to the island after a customary 3-year absence, and is ready to pair up with a female. As we've seen in the other penguin films, the males are given the task of sitting on eggs for several weeks after they've been laid by the females and wait patiently for them to hatch. After Rex's offspring hatches (which he calls "Junior"), he and his mate raise, feed and protect him until he becomes big enough to fend for himself.
I didn't find the footage here as impressive as that of March of the Penguins (even though that was only shot in 2D), but it's still something to see. As in that film, the cameras are simply set up and capture whatever happens without any human interference. As the penguins are guarding their eggs, one discovers that he's actually been sitting on a white rock. The narration from Rex worked in here is that it was one of his not-too-bright cousins. A particularly memorable sequence is when a giant petrel bird arrives in the gathering of younger penguins with the intent of having some of them for dinner. While they are pretty much defenseless, a group of father penguins hurries in and fights him off. As far as Tim Allen goes, I could see that the intent of bringing him on board to act as the main penguin was to make this appear more ‘entertaining' than ‘educational' to kids and possibly get them to pay closer attention. While this sort of works, most of the time I just felt the movie was being dumbed-down and would have been better off without any voiceovers at all. Although Allen's lines were written by someone else, most of them sound like he was just making them up as the movie went along (I could fill a lot of space with quotes I considered dumb, but a top one was "maybe she'll bring take-out!" as Rex is waiting for his mate to return with food.) Not being a big fan of toilet humor, I cringed at the moment of sea lions farting via added sound effects (with Allen shouting "Somebody light a match!") and wonder if the original release had anything similar to this. I remember when such humor wasn't even allowed in kids' movies, but nowadays it seems to almost be a requirement!
Shot with a RED digital 3D camera setup with help from a few smaller cameras, the 1.78 picture on the Blu-Ray is detailed for the most part, although a few shots looked a bit artificially sharpened. Prior to my watching this I had just viewed Under the Sea which is regarded as one of the best 3D Blu-Ray titles out thus far, so that was a rather hard act for Adventures of the Penguin King to follow. Overall the use of 3D here isn't as strong as the title I'd previously watched- some of the opening shots were so weak I had even double-checked to make sure I still had everything set properly for 3D. Most of the time however there is a good amount of depth which makes for a pleasing experience, although there aren't any gimmick moments. Layers of snow falling from the front of the screen to far behind made for the best 3D effects. Although the 3D presentation uses a dual-layer disc, I saw a few slight compression artifacts as well as banding particularly during fade-outs both in 3D and 2D.
As with the horror movie Static released by the same company, Adventures of the Penguin King strangely includes a second Blu-Ray disc which is only in 2D, even though the 3D disc gives a 2D option. A standard single-layer DVD is also included, whose picture appears adequate for that format.
Audio is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and consists primarily of studio-based sounds, mainly Tim Allen's voice over an interesting score performed by the Prague Filmharmonic Orchestra which varies in tone from playful to grandiose. While sounds of animals and elements are present, they give the impression of being created in post-production rather than recorded on location although there's a bit of live sound mainly from the penguin colony. Most of the sound is kept up front with the rear channels kicking in occasionally.
Hearing-impaired subtitles are included for the 2D Blu-Ray presentations; the Subtitle button on the player has been locked out and although the menu option for subtitles is present during the 3D presentation, I was not able to get them to turn on. The standard DVD's only hearing-impaired support is through standard closed captions.
A 32-minute making-of feature is included (in 2D hi-def), narrated by David Attenborough and giving the original title as The Bachelor King. It's emphasized that the 3D photography was meant to set this effort apart from the previous penguin movies, and the water-tight enclosure for the camera is seen tested in a pool in England before the crew heads out to Antarctica. Plenty of footage of location shooting is shown, including some amusing moments where the wildlife plays with their equipment. (I'd like to know what these people thought of the alterations made to this release of their movie.) A trailer for the American release is also included.
Adventures of the Penguin King is certainly an entertaining and ambitious production, but the added Tim Allen voiceover for the American release is silly and may make this less credible to viewers unaware that it wasn't originally produced with this in mind. It's a shame with three discs included that there wasn't room for the original narration somewhere. Still, the 3D photography and events captured by the cameras will make this worth checking out for those who enjoyed March of the Penguins and similar films.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.