Animadversions.

The weblog of Joshua Drescher

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March of the Penguins

September 15th, 2005 · No Comments · Movies

A quick post of a brief review I wrote for March of the Penguins on another website. I’m putting it up so I can spoiler-proof the review and then reference it in a post later this evening without ruining the film for anyone.

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins presents a fascinating portrait of just how freakishly adaptable evolution allows living creatures to be - even if that isn’t the filmmakers’ actual goal. It’s well-filmed, well-edited and paced in a way that makes endless expanses of ice and snow seem dynamic and interesting.

The story itself is funny at times, tragic at times and - yes - uplifting fairly frequently. It’s “cute” more than it’s informative, which is - to me - a serious flaw.

The primary problem I have with it - and many documentaries - is the way it attempts to “humanize” its subjects. Humans are egocentric pattern-recognition machines and we tend to see ourselves in… well… everything. This film exploits that tendency and spoon-feeds a rather intellectually disingenuous vision of “the march” as a result for the better part of its hour and a half runtime.

Make no mistake - despite the film’s tag lines and warm and fuzzy anthropomorphized vision of nature - this isn’t a display of “love finding a way.” Penguins don’t feel and aren’t motivated by love - a message the film DOES touch on, albeit far too briefly. In a section about what happens if a female is killed and does not return to take her mate’s place, we are told that the male will abandon his offspring in order to save himself. Similarly, an abandoned chick will be left to starve by its fellow penguins. That’s not love or hate or even indifference. That’s just nature and there’s far too little of it in this movie.

If you see this movie, you should also make sure to see Grizzly Man which is equally well-crafted and presents an exceptional and utterly opposing vision of nature and the dangers that stem from people seeing too much of ourselves in animals.

Pros - A very well-made picture. Visually stunning. Fun to watch, good for kids or dates.
Cons - If it’s a good film, it’s a bad documentary. Puts forth a rather dishonest vision of the natural world that appeals to human emotional weakness more than to intellectual curiosity.

3 out of 5

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