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March of the Penguins ( ; literally "the emperor's march") is a 2005 French nature documentary film. It was directed and co-written by Luc Jacquet, and co-produced by Bonne Pioche and the National Geographic Societymarker. The film depicts the yearly journey of the emperor penguins of Antarcticamarker. In autumn, all the penguins of breeding age (five years old and over) leave the ocean, their normal habitat, to walk inland to their ancestral breeding grounds. There, the penguins participate in a courtship that, if successful, results in the hatching of a chick. For the chick to survive, both parents must make multiple arduous journeys between the ocean and the breeding grounds over the ensuing months.

It took one year for the two isolated cinematographers Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison to shoot the film, which was shot around the French scientific base of Dumont d'Urville in Adélie Landmarker.

The film won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Subject matter

The Emperor Penguins use a particular spot as their breeding ground because it is on ice that is solid year round and there is no danger of the ice becoming too soft to support the colony. It is also in a protected area, where ice walls shield the colony from winds that can reach . At the beginning of Antarctic summer, the breeding ground is only a few hundred meters away from the open water where the penguins can feed. However, by the end of summer, the breeding ground is over away from the nearest open water. In order to reach it, all the penguins of breeding age must traverse this great distance.

The penguins practice serial monogamy within each breeding season. The female lays a single egg, and the co-operation of the parents is needed if the chick is to survive. After the female lays the egg, she transfers it to the feet of the waiting male with a minimal exposure to the elements, as the intense cold will kill the developing embryo. The male tends to the egg when the female returns to the sea, now even further away, both in order to feed herself and to obtain extra food for feeding her chick when she returns. She has not eaten in two months and by the time she leaves the hatching area, she will have lost a third of her body weight.

For an additional two months, the males huddle together for warmth, and incubate their eggs. They endure temperatures approaching ( ), and their only source of water is snow that falls on the breeding ground. When the chicks hatch, the males have only a small meal to feed them, and if the female does not return, they must abandon their chick and return to the sea to feed themselves. By the time they return, they have lost half their weight and have not eaten for four months. The chicks are also at risk from predatory birds such as skuas.

The mother penguins come back and feed their young, while the male penguins go all the way back to sea (70 miles) to feed themselves. This gives the mothers time to feed their young ones and bond with them. Unfortunately, a fierce storm arrives and some of the chicks perish.

The death of a chick is tragic, but it does allow the parents to return to the sea to feed for the rest of the breeding season. When a mother penguin loses its young in a fierce storm, it sometimes attempts to steal another mother's chick. At times, the young are abandoned by one parent, and they must rely on the return of the other parent, who can recognize the chick only from its unique call. Many parents die on the trip, killed by exhaustion or by predators (such as the Leopard Seal), dooming their chicks back at the breeding ground.

The ingenious fight against starvation is a recurring theme throughout the film. In one scene, near-starving chicks are shown taking sustenance out of their father's throat-sacs, 11th-hour nourishment in the form of a milky, protein-rich substance secreted from a sac in the father-penguins' throat sacs to feed their chicks in the event that circumstances require.

The parents must then tend to the chick for an additional four months, shuttling back and forth to the sea in order to provide food for their young. As spring progresses, the trip gets progressively easier, until finally the parents can leave the chicks to fend for themselves.

International versions

The original French language release features dialog "dubbed" as if it were spoken by the penguins themselves; the voice actors are Charles Berling, Romane Bohringer and Jules Sitruk. The Hungarian version follows that, with actors Ákos Kőszegi, Anna Kubik, and Gábor Morvai.

The German version as seen in German movie theaters (and in the televised broadcast in April 2007 on channel ProSieben) uses the voices of Andrea Loewig, Thorsten Michaelis and Adrian Kilian for the "dubbed dialog" of the penguins. The Austrian channel ORF 1, however, used for their near-simultaneous broadcast in April 2007 the alternate version available on the German "Special Edition" DVD. This uses a documentary narration voiceover spoken by the German actor Sky Du Mont.

The English language release was given a more straightforward narration by Americanmarker actor Morgan Freeman, as were the Dutch version (narrated by Belgianmarker comedian Urbanus), the Indianmarker version (narrated in Hindi and English by Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan and known by the title "Penguins: A Love Story"), the Polish version (narrated by Polish actor Marek Kondrat), and the Swedish version (narrated by Swedish actor Gösta Ekman).

The Tagalog version (also straightforward) is narrated by actress Sharon Cuneta; it was entitled Penguin, Penguin, Paano Ka Ginawa? (English: "Penguin, Penguin, How Were You Made?") with the English title as the subtitle. The Tagalog title is similar to that of a Philippine novel and film, Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa? (English: "Child, Child, How Were You Made?")

The original version uses an original soundtrack by Émilie Simon, whereas the English language version replaces it with a score by Alex Wurman.

Releases and responses

The first screening of the film was at the Sundance Film Festival, in the USmarker on 21 January 2005. It was released in Francemarker the next week, on 26 January, where it earned a 4-star rating from AllôCiné, and was beaten at the box office only by The Aviator during its opening week.

The film was released on DVD in France on 26 July 2005. The DVD extras address some of the criticisms the film had attracted, most notably by reframing the film as a scientific study and adding facts to what would otherwise have been a family film. This Zone 2 release featured no English audio tracks or subtitles.

The original French version was released in Quebecmarker. Subsequently, an English language version was released in the rest of North America on 24 June 2005, which drew praise from most critics who found it both informative and charming (it has received a 95% "fresh" rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes, which collects film reviews). The movie-going public apparently agreed with that assessment, as the film distinguished itself as one of the most successful films of the season on a per-theatre basis: it became the second most successful documentary released in North America, after Fahrenheit 9/11, grossing over $77 million in the United States and Canada (in nominal dollars, from 1982 to the present.)

In 2007, a direct-to-DVD parody written and produced by Bob Saget called Farce of the Penguins was released. It is narrated by Samuel L. Jackson and features other stars providing voice-overs for the penguins. Although the film uses footage from actual nature documentaries about penguins, the parody was not allowed to include footage from March of the Penguins itself.

In November 2006, the film was adapted into a video game by DSI Games for the Nintendo DS and Game Boy Advance platforms. It features Lemmings-like gameplay.

In the run up to the 2007 Irish General Election Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern said March of the Penguins was his favourite film of all time.

Political and social interpretations

The film attracted some political and social commentary in which the penguins were viewed anthropomorphically as having similarities with, and even lessons for, human society. Michael Medved praised the film for promoting conservative family values by showing the value of stable parenthood. Medved's comments provoked responses by others, including Andrew Sullivan, who pointed out that the penguins are not in fact monogamous for more than one year, in reality practicing serial monogamy. Matt Walker of New Scientist pointed out that many emperor penguin "adoptions" of chicks are in fact kidnappings, as well as behaviours observed in other penguin species, such as ill treatment of weak chicks, prostitution, and ostracism of rare albino penguins. "For instance, while it is true that emperor penguins often adopt each other's chicks, they do not always do so in a way the moralisers would approve of." Sullivan and Walker both conclude that trying to use animal behavior as an example for human behavior is a mistake.

The director, Luc Jacquet, has condemned such comparisons between penguins and humans. Asked by the San Diego Union Tribune to comment on the film's use as "a metaphor for family values – the devotion to a mate, devotion to offspring, monogamy, self-denial", Jaquet responded: "I condemn this position. I find it intellectually dishonest to impose this viewpoint on something that's part of nature. It's amusing, but if you take the monogamy argument, from one season to the next, the divorce rate, if you will, is between 80 to 90 percent... the monogamy only lasts for the duration of one reproductive cycle. You have to let penguins be penguins and humans be humans."

Some of the controversy over this may be media driven. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, reported in the magazine's blog that the BBC "have been harassing me for days over March of the Penguins ... about what, I'm not sure. I think to see if I would say on air that penguins are God's instruments to pull America back from the hell-fire, or something like that. As politely as I could I told her, 'Lady, they're just birds.'"


See also

Further reading


  1. This bird is unidentified in the film itself, but the Region 2 DVD identifies it. Antarctic Skua
  2. 2007 interview with Bob Saget by Daniel Robert Epstein from SuicideGirls
  3. (Gale Cengage Learning, subscription or library card required) retrieved on 8 September 2008.
  4. Lowry, Rich. Oh no, the BBC 18 September 2005.

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