I've always had a love for the arctic reaches on both ends of the Earth and am fascinated by the presence of life in both places. The emperor penguin's tale gets more and more complicated and poignant, the more researchers follow these fellows around.
For most of the movie you wonder "why in the hell would penguins do all these seventy-mile walks in such horrible conditions?" But at the end, there is a quick line, easily lost, which mentions why the nesting site is where it is. Seeing the young chicks, still covered with grey down to varying degrees make their first plunge into the open sea, where they are still too buoyant to possibly sink, makes the entire travail worth it.
And Morgan Freeman's strong, steady, never too rushed voice is the perfect narration to this wonderful tale. No doubt the script writers put a little too much anthropomorphization into his words, but you are sucked in and feel for the penguins.
Having heard of some of this repeated long march of the penguins across the ice shelves, probably in Attenborough's series on Birds, and I think a second PBS show on penguins, I had a fair clue what was coming, because I'm sure that the earlier video and infrared night time shooting was done by a French team, too. Looks like their spectacular earlier footage must've wrangled them more bigtime money and a National Geographic sponsorship... (grin)
The Density of Ice and Water
There were many small children in attendance at our Sunday afternoon showing. The reviewers have commented that there are a few tough moments where penguins get attacked by predators or savaged by the raging cold, but they don't dwell on it. I recall from previous documentaries on the penguins that the eggs and newborn chicks can't be allowed exposure to the extreme below zero temperatures for very long before they'd freeze.
This was brought home by one scene of a young breeding pair who hadn't yet figured out how to hand off the egg from mother to father. It rolled around on the ice and they couldn't get it to ride up onto the male's feet. And they just took too long. Failure was obvious and quick. Water expands as it freezes into ice and so the egg developed long cracks and then slowly, opened up -- the contents long dead and frozen within -- already too late.
A real Physics lesson in the Antarctic.
A Sci-Fi Moment
Watching long lines of emperor penguins walking upright off into the distance, the very long telephoto image distorting in the shimmer of mirages and heat layers as even very cold airs have different indices of refraction from each other as the temperatures change, I was struck at first by how humanlike they looked. Then how alienlike. I recalled some strange bad SF movie from a few years ago where giant insects mimicked the appearance of a man in a top coat wearing a hat -- and idly wondered about an alien species which might have to continue to answer some primordial ancient call of the wild to procreate and travel in some harsh wilderness of their own, even as they've developed technology and culture. "We've always done it this way" is so very powerful a drive in humans, after all.
Stay For The Credits
The filmers have done an extraordinary job not to intrude themselves into the project. I don't recall seeing any bootprints or sledge tracks, and certainly no glimpse of the cameramen. During the end credits, they show the crews traveling across the snow and ice, and filming in and around the massive mob of emperor penguins huddling to survive. In "better" weather, some of the curious penguins hang around and follow the humans. There are some very amusing little scenes and it brings home how much hard work the humans had to do to survive in conditions averaging minus-50-degF with wind gusts up to 100 mph.
Given the "family" nature of this documentary, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Disney dominated the trailers. Valiant goes where Chicken Run dared not -- the real War... though I can't quite tell if they're spoofing WWII or The Great War which preceded it. Ice Age 2: The Big Thaw (or something like that) Promised for sometime in 2006, this is one of those one-off trailers which are just designed to amuse and generate interest, but don't necessarily have anything to do with the film. Very funny bit with the squirrel-like character (we haven't seen the first movie) trying to climb on the underside of an ice shelf, getting his tongue stuck to the ice, finally able to pull itself up and around to climb up this ice wall, spot an acorn, rescue it -- and then try to play little Dutch Boy and the leaking dyke as the glacier wall begins to spring leaks. All good cartoon fun and the kids in the audience adored it. There was "A Golf Movie", whose title escapes me, perhaps The Greatest Game In The World, brought to you by the people who made big inspiring sports movies like Remember The Titans, Rookie and Miracle.
And Jane Austen is alive and well in the twenty-first century, if you please. Yet Another Pride and Prejudice is coming later this year, with Keira Knightly in the lead, and Donald Sutherland is the patriarch of a family and the cast list shows Judi Dench in there somewhere.