March of the Penguins (Luc Jacquet). 84 minutes. Opens Friday (June 24). For venues and times, see Movies, page 107. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Imagine a cast of thousands performing perfectly in sync, without retakes or director's prompts. Luc Jacquet lucks out with a stunning cast of emperor penguins who require no coaxing to battle nature's odds and accomplish their breeding mission.
Antarctica, the coldest place on earth, is captured in breathtaking beauty on Super-16 film by Laurent Chalet and Jérôme Maison . Emperors live in the sea but instinctually leave their feeding ground at the onset of winter to mate. From the rear, thousands of male penguins in single file resemble a procession of nuns. They cover 70 miles of ice terrain in blizzards to reach the females at the breeding grounds where they all were born.
Upon arrival, the penguins flap, bellow, strut and squawk to find a perfect mate and, once coupled, explore each other tenderly with their beaks. Each father spends eight sub-zero weeks minding the solo egg laid by his mate, who makes the long trek to feed, storing extra for the chicks.
It's a remarkable story about the will to survive in nature's harshest environment. There are disturbing moments: a leopard seal nabs a female penguin, a newborn egg freezes on the ice, a young chick dies in a storm, and a giant Arctic petrel flies off with a vulnerable newborn as the tortured mother mourns.
Typical explanatory narration, delivered by Morgan Freeman , indicates that Jacquet didn't trust the film to speak for itself, but penguins rule in this next-to-nature treat.