Monday, September 12, 2005

about those penguins...

We went to see The March of the Penguins over Labor Day weekend.

Nearly everyone, except Walter, seems to love this movie.

First, it must be said that the cinematography in this movie is extraordinary. There's no other word for it. I can't wait for the DVD because I'm so interested in seeing the "making of" feature that simply must accompany the feature film. One of the things that impressed me the most was that they managed to edit the footage so that no human artifact, or human, appeared on screen at all, until some outtake-like clips shown during credits.

The penguins themselves, as has been noted everywhere, are quite charming to look at. My favorite scene is when a penguin missteps and falls on the ice, then struggles to get up with a very human-sounding "Harumph!" noise. It was a very funny moment. The penguins are also exceptionally tough and survive some of the harshest conditions on the planet, all of which is meticulously shown to us.

I will balance my next remark by saying that Morgan Freeman is an excellent narrator. His voice is calm without droning, and he is a pleasure to listen to. But there is where my pleasure with the narration ends. If Morgan Freeman had been reading the phonebook aloud, the narration would have been better.

Because, unlike the 94% of critics who adored this movie, I am firmly in Walter's camp. The narration goes to great lenths to anthropomorphize the penguins, even to saying such completely absurd things like they endure the harsh conditions "for love."

It's completely ridiculous. They're not people. They don't have human emotions. They do not love, nor can they be "devastated" when they lose an egg or a chick. Later footage of the parents ignoring the chicks as they are attacked by a gull proves the point, as does the fact that once the chicks are able to fend for themselves, the parents take off and most likely never see them again. (The chicks will spend 5 years at sea until they are ready to reproduce themselves.)

I don't understand the choice of the filmmakers here. This movie was brilliantly shot and so expertly edited, it's breath-taking. Then they saddle it with this maudlin script! Why? Why should we be spoon-fed this dangerously unrealistic depiction of wildlife? Things like this lead to people thinking that the idea of re-introducting large predators in North America is a good idea.

No, thanks. I really don't see the point in us sharing our top spot in the food chain. And I don't understand why we can't just appreciate penguins in all their penguin-ish glory, without turning them into tiny tuxedo'd parental masochists, subjecting themselves to cruel winter months of depravation, all "for love."

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