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March of the Penguins

Warner Bros. // G // March 27, 2007
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Daniel Hirshleifer | posted April 16, 2007 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
If March of the Penguins ever gets a sequel, I'd propose the title March to the Bank, because that's exactly where this documentary went. For a film with a budget of slightly over eight million dollars, the film racked up more than $77 million in the United States alone. That's pretty amazing when you consider this is a documentary. Most people shy away from documentaries like they're going to get cooties from them, and yet March of the Penguins pops out of France of all places and makes almost $100 million dollars.

What's even more amazing about the film's success is that it is, in general, pretty boring. As you've probably heard by now, this is a movie about penguins trekking many miles over ice, then sitting in one place for many months. Sure, there's more to it than that (such as the propagation of a species), but the fact is, this is by its very content a slow paced picture. Now, I have nothing wrong with films that run at a slower pace. Hell, 2001: A Space Odyssey is my all-time favorite film. But March is no 2001, and director Luc Jacquet is no Stanley Kubrick.

The film was originally made for the French market and contained a cutesy dialogue track that showed what the penguins might be thinking as they went through their mating rituals. For America, this has been replaced by a lackluster narration by Morgan Freeman. Actually, Morgan Freeman's name appears quite prominently on the packaging, as if his presence alone is going to bring in money that the penguins never would. However, his narration, while not exactly leaden, isn't very awe-inspiring or interesting. It's rather terse and not eloquent. This leaves the majority of the film on the shoulders of composer Alex Wurman (who replaced the original French composer in another American market change). Wurman is, quite simply, an excruciatingly routine composer. The music that's meant to fill us with awe or empathy fails to stir anything but annoyance. His score actively detracts from what we're watching.

So that leaves those lovable penguins to make us care. Granted, since this is their story, they do a better job of it than Wurman or Freeman, but they're not doing what they're doing for the entertainment value. They're trying to make the next generation of penguins and they don't care if we enjoy it or not. So I can't blame them for being less interesting than I thought a penguin would be. In the end, there's just not enough here to sustain interest and I could not fathom watching this again. There are so many better documentaries out there, why should I?

The Blu-ray Disc:

The Image:
As Josh correctly pointed out in his HD DVD review, March of the Penguins was not shot to look good in HD. And in most of the wide and underwater shots, the limitations of the technology the filmmakers used becomes quite apparent, with soft grainy imagery that looks pretty awful on HD sets. Believe me when I say there are better made for TV nature shows that look better than this. However, the medium and close shots have a good amount of detail and color reproduction. You can see the sheen on the penguins and their footprints in the snow. Still, I would not use this highly uneven 1080p 1.85:1 VC-1 transfer to show off the home theater.

The Audio:
Providing both English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, the majority of the sound goes to the score. Even then, surrounds are hardly used. Morgan Freeman's voice comes across clearly. Not much more to be said.

The Supplements:
Of Penguins and Men: An hour long documentary on the making of a feature-length documentary, "Of Penguins and Men" is actually far more interesting than the main feature on the disc. Here we see exactly what it took to get the footage used in March of the Penguins, and the hardships the filmmakers underwent in Antarctica. You get a lot of the same information as you would from Morgan Freeman, but much more as well. And since there are actually humans here, you have someone to relate to. One of the few times a special feature is actually better than the movie it's supporting.

Crittercam: Emperor Penguins: A show for National Geographic, this focuses on scientists' attempts to understand the Emperor Penguin as Antarctica warms. Unfortunately, this program was originally made for kids and is insufferable for adults. They actually add funny sound effects. Terrible.

8 Ball Bunny: Warner Bros. has thankfully provided a classic Looney Tunes short. This one, directed by Chuck Jones, finds Bugs Bunny making a trip to Antarctica to return a baby penguin who has lost its way. It goes without saying that any Looney Tunes in HD is worth watching, and this is easily the best material available on the entire disc.

There's also a theatrical trailer.

The Conclusion:
March of the Penguins is unexpectedly boring for an Oscar winning documentary, but it's just not well made. To add insult to injury, the image doesn't even look all that good in HD. The only saving grace of this disc is an excellent supplemental feature and a Looney Tunes short in HD. But as much as I love Looney Tunes, I can't recommend that anyone actually buy this disc. Rent It.

Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.

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