March of the Penguins Luc Jacquet

In a year where the documentary reached its peak of popularity, thanks to the likes of Murderball, Mad Hot Ballroom, No Direction Home and Grizzly Man, it was those tuxedo-clad birds from the North that made the biggest impact on the genre. Some people may pass it off as just another fluffy doc trying to fill a recent quota — a film more concerned with winning points for cuteness than confronting a real topic — but Jacquet's March of the Penguins is something of extraordinary beauty and utter fascination. Following the Emperor penguins on their voyage across Antarctica to find mates, conceive an egg, protect it and themselves from the bitter cold, see it through hatching and surviving the early stages of life and predators, and then find something to eat to stay alive, the film has a harrowing tale to tell. The fact that Jacquet secured the always-reliable voice of Morgan Freeman only increases the charm. The interaction between the penguins, not to mention just witnessing their actions and expressions, is unlike any other viewing experience, which can likely be said for any creature, but the penguin is so graceful and, at times, human that it's difficult not to feel something special for these birds. The cinematography is phenomenal and thanks to the 53-minute featurette "Of Penguins and Men" the human side of the film is witnessed, as Laurent Chalet and Jerôme Maison guide you through their triumphs and battles (extreme frostbite, incapacitating knee injury) of the project. Though their narrative tends to rehash some of Freeman's commentary, it's the human interaction with the penguins (absent from the doc) that is most remarkable, as the birds feel right at home in the presence of the cinematographers, curiously approaching them without any caution. Sure, March will attract a number of copycat animal docs in the future, but if they're as breathtaking and lovable as this, bring them on! (Maple)