There's nothing quite as motivated as a penguin in love.
Such is the message of March of the Penguins, the Chilly Willy documentary that became a surprise hit during the sweltering months of summer.
The no-frills story of the extreme measures emperor penguins go through to become parents, the film recounts their 70-mile slogs across Antarctic ice, their months of fasting and steadfast shouldering of some of the harshest conditions on Earth. But as remarkable as the penguins' instinctual quest to reproduce is, the aspect an audience responds to is that every shot of a bird in a blizzard, every sequence of stubby legs tramping across miles of barren ice has to be filmed by a well-insulated filmmaker working not on instinct, but out of desire to see this story told.
It is perhaps because of this drive, this struggle against an Antarctic winter, that the film often finds itself transcending the expected and becoming something much more poetic than the average nature doc. The expected footage of birds, ice and eggs is all there. But often, it is shot in a way that the colors, or lack thereof, become abstractions, icy images that suggest sea and sky, animal and environment, without offering a literal representation.
Although the film is educational and enlightening, parents might want to show it to younger children with caution. The environment in which the birds live is harsh and hazardous, and the filmmakers do not shy from the incidents of mortality. Chicks fall prey to the cold, and adults to leopard seals. Cute, it seems, holds little sway.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Title: March of the Penguins (Warner Home Video; $28.98)
The verdict: * * * * out of * * * * *
DVD EXTRAS: The documentary suggests the hardships the filmmakers endured. As interesting as the documentary is, the documentary behind the documentary, Of Penguins and Men, shows it. Stirring, if unfortunately titled.