Monday, February 06, 2006


Now, THAT'S cold

By Edward Copeland
I finally caught up with March of the Penguins this weekend. While it is a good documentary and its footage is amazing, I don't think it holds a candle to fellow Oscar nominees Murderball or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room or the non-nominated Grizzly Man or Tell Them Who You Are. One thing that puzzles me is its wide identification as a "family film" when much of the movie contains images and developments that I would think some younger children would find disturbing. Unborn penguin chicks die as their eggs crack in the cold or starve and freeze to death once they are born. Predators take out penguins of all ages and the climax of the film is the abandonment of the young chicks by both parents.

March of the Penguins is definitely educational and fascinating, but I have to wonder how it could affect some kids with its rampant deaths and family breakups.

It is worthwhile to see — but I don't think it deserves the Oscar, though I haven't seen Darwin's Nightmare or Street Fight.

One other note: I like Morgan Freeman a lot but I think I've reached my limit on seeing films that include his narration. I kept expecting him to wander off from tales of the emperor penguin to share stories of Andy Dufresne or friends who knew in the boxing industry.

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Seeing that stuff will put a hide on 'em.
I showed it to my five and three-year-old girls during Christmas, and they admitted some worry, but they processed it pretty well. It was all part of the (mostly cute) package for them, yet it didn't traumatize them-- and I agree with Jeffrey that it's probably better to expose them to a little reality-of-nature type stuff (and this is softened somewhat-- it's clear what's happening, but it's not overly graphic) to balance out the Disney anthropomorphization they're being seduced by on a minute-to-minute basis every day. And to tell you the truth, as parents it's my wife and I who run the risk of traumatization seeing stuff like this...
I was entranced by The March of the Penguins --- I always loved the reassuring Disney nature films that ole uncle Walt conjurred up too. The troubling scenes for me aren't about the animal behavior we see. I've become bothered by one glaring omission. The film never talks about the impact of global warming on the Penguins. Yet in the treatment for the film, originally titled, The Emperor's Procession, there is a statment about the potential calamitous effects of global climate change.

On page 17 it says, "French scientists have just come to an unexpected conclusion about the effects of human activity on emperor penguins. They've observed that the species' reproductive success has diminished dramatically over the past 20 years. In searching for the causes, they realized that it corresponds precisely to a radical rise of temperatures in the Antarctic, as a result of the now famous greenhouse effect. Ironically, the phenomenon should help the emperors by reducing the size of the ice floe. This would be true if not for the fact that global warming decreases the number of fish in the ocean, and so although they walk fewer kilometers, the emperors can't find enough food to feed their young."

This means that the "March" could soon come to a halt and that we are to blame for stopping the music. Why wasn't this part of the final film? Was it in the French version and then dropped for the American audience? If so, why?

While the "Penguins" is a nice, feel good film it doesn't connect the dots like "Darwin's Nightmare." Both films are vying for an Academy Award and coincidentally each is the product of a French director. But "Nightmare" uses its screen time to educate us about issues larger than the plight of its subjects. While it's ostensibly about the environmental devastation created by the Nile Perch, after it was introduced into Lake Victoria, it is so much more. During a post screening Q&A at the SilverDocs Film Festival, "Nightmare" director Hubert Sauper, was asked, "What can we do to help the fish?" His reply, "I don't care about the fu@&*#g fish," was his less than polite way of saying it's not about the cute little creatures it's about our survival.

Unlike "Nightmare," the "March of the Penguins" missed the opportunity to create a film that could bring the most serious issues confronting the planet today to the attention of a global audience. The penguins are adorable but instead of becoming modern versions of Smokey the Bear encouraging us to stomp out the global warming flames these potentially potent symbols end up as sentimental plush toys.

In light of the record of scientists being muzzled in this country, who dare speak out about the pending peril of global warming, I think this omission needs to be addressed? If the answer is that the filmmakers didn't think it was that important then the film should not be awarded with a statue from the Motion Picture Academy. If they succumbed to government or broadcaster pressure to censor their work, then they should demand that this be reversed and that their original vision be seen.
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