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DVD Review: March of the Penguins Limited Edition Giftset

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When March of the Penguins was initially released in 2005, this National Geographic feature film took the world of nature documentaries by storm. Never before had a nature film so captured a narrative, epic story line within an educational exploration of a single species. Filled with love, triumph, grief, and struggle, it’s no surprise that March of Penguins captured the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Recently re-released on November 3, March of the Penguins is now available to own as part of a limited edition DVD giftset. The original award-winning documentary is now accompanied by a new full-length documentary on a second DVD which explores the world of African penguins entitled On the Wings of Penguins, a set of eight high-quality photographic penguin postcards, and a small, huggable African penguin plush toy. With two additional full-length special features included along on the March of the Penguins DVD there is enough fascinating content here to keep the most avid penguin aficionado busy for some time.

Narrated by the incomparable Morgan Freeman, the incredible struggle of life in the Antarctic is portrayed by following the life cycle of the emperor penguin through its yearly round. From the 70-mile march to the nesting grounds, through the tender mating rituals, and the struggle to keep their eggs and chicks alive, March of the Penguins captures the lives of these oddly adorable creatures with sensitivity and compassion.

Filled with sparkling cinematography, the emperors are captured in all their lustrous glory, shimmering white breast feathers luminous against the stark, barren landscape. Respectfully produced, there is no stream of inane chatter here. Careful narration is broken by long pauses for observation, allowing the penguins on film to tell their own story.

Hailed as a wonderful film for family viewing, parents of sensitive children may wish to exercise some discernment. When we initially attempted to watch the film with our then three-year-old daughter she became hysterical at the sight of eggs freezing and splitting, when the mother penguins left the fathers with the eggs to march back to the sea and feed, we had a major breakdown.

Three years later we are now able to watch the movie with our still-sensitive daughter though there are moments where she hides – when birds of prey attack penguin chicks, when penguins must flee from seals – and moments when she cries, confronted by the tenuous nature of life in the wilds.

The filmmakers do not hesitate to explore the frail grasp on life these animals have; there are times in fact when it is emphasized through dramatic music and lingering shots. While she found the film at times overwhelming due to its emotional power, she greatly enjoyed it – as did we all – and now has a deeper appreciation and understanding for the species.

Potential purchasers may wish to note that while some minimal references are made to Darwinian evolution and an old-earth chronology, they are only casually inserted. Concerned not with the origins of penguin life, March of the Penguins captures, observes, and reflects upon life as it is now for the only winter inhabitants (save for research scientists and film crews) of Antarctica.

The first disc in the box set contains both the 80-minute feature film as well as a generous selection of special features. These additional inclusions are not hastily thrown together, but represent a great deal of rich, original content.

Of Penguins and Men is told from the perspective of the three-man film crew who spent a year in Antarctica filming the penguins in extreme weather conditions. Narrated nearly as lyrically as the feature film, the additional footage and commentary forms a complementary full-length documentary (53 minutes). While it may not stand on its own as a comprehensive survey of the lives of the emperors, it certainly adds a great deal of value to the collection.

National Geographic’s Crittercam: Emperor Penguins follows a team of research scientists as they survey the effects of global warming on Antarctic penguin populations, research hunting behaviours through the use of an ‘on-penguin’ video camera, and investigate various aspects of penguin life in an up-beat informal tone. At 23 minutes it is reminiscent of a half-hour children’s wildlife show, and is quite engaging.

8 Ball Bunny a classic Looney Tunes episode involving Bugs Bunny and his attempts to take a misplaced penguin he finds back home to Antarctica round out the special features offerings along with a theatrical trailer. Viewing options include English and Spanish language tracks, with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles.

The second disc offers a single documentary, On the Wings of Penguins, which is newly released this year. The lives of African penguins both within captivity and in the wild are explored in a variety of locales. Captive breeding programs, a census of wild birds in South Africa, a cataract removal surgery on an African penguin old-timer before his relocation to a new zoo — all these and more are explored in a traditional nature documentary style in this 69-minute film. Viewers are even able to see penguins being thoroughly bathed following an oil spill – it’s amazing how good-natured these creatures are.

March of the Penguins became an instant classic, immediately embraced by the public, young and old alike. In this timeless story of struggle and endurance the production team has achieved what only the best directors can in cinema – and all without the use of sets, props, or highly paid actors. If you have even a slight passing interest in nature films and have yet to see March of the Penguins, seize the day – the time is now.

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