Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Specially after reading reviews like this. (there's a ton of them now.)
Luc Jacquet - a biologist-turned-cameraman - stunned moviedom with the unlikely success of "March of the Penguins."
Luc Jacquet was a young, French post-graduate ecologist- biologist about to make his first research expedition to Antarctica when out of the blue he got a call from a Swiss filmmaker named Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf.
Despite its French origins and the climatically hostile Antarctic "set" on which "Penguins" was shot (Jacquet and his crew were fortunate to have survived their 13 months in the place, much less make an Oscar-nominated documentary there), the film was fully Americanized after its U.S. premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2005. By the time it was released in June, gone were the three voices of the penguins that once "narrated" the film; the musical score was different, and Morgan Freeman now provided the omnipotent voice that told the penguins' story.
"From the very beginning, Warner was very clear about wanting to adapt it," Jacquet said. "They didn't think the three voices would work in an American context, so I knew from the beginning what they were going to do.... They respected the story and the feel of the film; they didn't change the editing; they kept the heart and feeling of the film.
"Interestingly," he said, "it's been very successful in both forms - with a single narrator and with three narrators. So the film has a sort of basis that transcends the form in which it is presented."
Even scientists agree that Jacquet's film has an irresistible allure.
"Well, I would say that 50-60 million attendees indicates an interest in penguins," agreed Joel Cracraft, head of the department of ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. "I understand a significant component of that attendance was due to the Christian right seeing this as a family-values movie, which is interesting since these birds are serially monogamous."
Jacquet is adamant that what might be called the "Disneyfication" of the emperor penguin, whose courting and mating process is an incredibly arduous affair, was neither his intention nor his result. And he disagrees with those who interpret "March" as a metaphor for "family values."
"I condemn this position," he said. "I find it intellectually dishonest to impose this on something that's part of nature. It's amusing, but if you take the monogamy argument, from one season to the next, the divorce rate, if you will, is between 80 to 90 percent.
He is wrong. That's not what swingers are, because the penguins actually "divorce." :-) They are serial monogamous wedders.
When the film was released in North America on the June 24, 2005, it drew praise from most critics who found it both informative and charming. The movie-going public apparently agreed with that assessment, as the film distinguished itself as one of the most successful films of the season on a per-theatre basis. It received an admirable 95% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes and became the second-most successful documentary released in North America, after Fahrenheit 9/11, grossing over $77 million in the United States and Canada  (although Fahrenheit 9/11 couldn't top the suprising 95% "fresh" rating, with Fahrenheit 9/11's rating of 84% "fresh").
The original score for the French version, by Emilie Simon, drew praises and awards, winning Film score of the Year at the national Victoires de la musique in 2006. The score for the English language version of the film, by Alex Wurman, was also a commercial success in the United States.
Some of the controversy over this may be media driven. Rich Lowry of National Review reported that the BBC "have been harassing me for days over March of the Penguins. Apparently the film is just now coming to Britain. They are doing a piece on the 'controversy' over the film. I made the mistake of having one conversation with this—perfectly pleasant and polite, I should say—woman at the BBC about it, since I love the movie, but I have been showered with messages from her since then. Today she was calling about what, I'm not sure. I think to see if I would say on air that penguins are God's instruments to pull America back from the hell-fire, or something like that. As politely as I could I told her, 'Lady, they're just birds.'"
Nothing is just birds, you fuuuuuuuuel. (as Inspector Clouseau would say ;-)