DVD Review HTF REVIEW: March Of The Penguins

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Nov 28, 2005.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]

    March Of The Penguins






    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 2005
    Rated: G
    Film Length: 80 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Enhanced Widescreen
    Audio: DD 5.1
    Color/B&W: Color
    Languages: English & Spanish
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $28.98
    Package: Single disc/Amaray Keepcase





    The Feature:
    March Of The Penguins is a documentary that was directed by Luc Jacquet and ably does what all good National Geographic documentaries do: it informs and entertains while providing interesting wildlife footage. Over the course of a calendar year in Antarctica, the documentary follows the life cycle of Emperor Penguins.

    Every March, as winter approaches in the southern hemisphere, the birds emerge from their watery playpen and trek 70 frigid miles across ice to the mating ground. There, they pair off before engaging in ritualistic behavior that results in the female laying an egg. While the male keeps the egg warm, the females return to the water to gorge themselves. By the time they return, the chicks have hatched. Then, it's the males turn to go back to the water. After several alternating round-trips by the parents, the chicks are developed enough to be left on their own, and the families break up. The circle of life goes on…

    March of the Penguins shows some of the dangers and hardships faced by the birds. Some eggs are not properly warmed and never hatch. Chicks die of starvation, exposure, or end up in the stomach of a predator. Yet the "violence" is limited and sanitized. This is, after all, a G-rated motion picture - no need to scare off or terrify the kids in the audience. From the documentary, however, one gets the feeling that penguin deaths are infrequent, unfortunate exceptions to the rule that send their parents into downward spirals of grief. I suspect this isn't the case.

    The film is narrated by Morgan Freeman who is the perfect choice to provide it. He has a voice that is comforting and believable. Freeman seems to be type of guy who all of us would appreciate having as a friend, a man with wisdom who could be called upon for advice on just about any topic. It's no surprise that this is the third movie in less than a year where he functions as the narrator (the other two are Million Dollar Baby, in which he has an acting part, and War of the Worlds, in which he does not appear). Should there be any doubt as to Freeman's ability, look no further than the modern day classic, The Shawshank Redemption - a factor which in the opinion of this reviewer, is one of the main reasons which contributes to the film's legendary status.

    While I was intrigued by the story of the penguins, I was just as interested in the process that the unseen filmmakers went through to get their shots. (We see a little of the behind-the-scenes process during the closing credits.) The temperatures get to less than -80 degrees) - the icy water conditions - the subject matter (was it difficult to photograph these little critters?) - the harsh geographic conditions alone seem to be as intriguing. Some of this intrigue will be cleared up during the "Of Men And Penguins" special features, more on that below.

    The Feature: 4/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Video:
    Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, this enhanced for widescreen transfer is solid and what we might expect from a relatively high profile documentary. Needless to say, some of the geographic locations are visually spectacular. While there's not much to be found on the harsh continent, the photography is breathtaking.

    The few colors that we do see are vibrant - needless to say, you'll see plenty of blues and whites. The blacks (as noted on the Emperor Penguin's beautiful markings), was dark and rich - whites were clean and rarely bloomy. The level of detail was satisfactory, though not sharp as a tack. The print was virtually immaculate and free of any dirt, marks or blemishes and you’ll see a fair amount of grain from time to time. There we're no issues relating to the disc's authoring or any compression errors - everything here seems to have been handled fine. Edge enhancement was virtually non-existent.

    Considering the equipment used and the bleak conditions of the location, this documentary looks fine - just don't expect a big budget blockbuster like image.

    Video: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    Not much to say with regards to the audio portion of this transfer. March Of The Penguins is not the type of film your going to pull from your shelf to demo your system. Most importantly here is the Morgan Freeman narration which was always clear, bold and intelligible. There's not much to discuss in terms of dynamics - hey, other than Freeman and thousands of squawking penguins, that's pretty much it. There’s some general ambiance and filler provided in the surround channels limited to wind and other location noise.

    What you get here is on par with what you might expect from a documentary. All in all, this is a fine job.


    Audio: 3/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Special Features:
    [*] First up is Of Penguins And Men which is a behind-the-scenes documentary that was completed by the filmmaker throughout the progression of the film. It shows like a video diary and is also told via voiceover narration. Again, some phenomenal photography is showcased here with plenty of factual information thrown at us regarding the subject matter as well as many of the obstacles they were faced with during the shoot. An interesting watch and a welcome addition. Duration: 53:43 minutes.
    [*] Next up is a feature entitled, National Geographic’s Crittercam: Emperor Penguins. In this rather straight forward special feature, cameras are strapped to various penguins in attempt to glean more information from the critters. All pretty much self explanatory but an interesting inclusion nonetheless. Duration: 23:30 minutes.
    [*] The hilarious Merrie Melodies short, 8 Ball Bunny is fittingly included here. The 1950 short, directed by Chuck Jones, chronicles Bugs Bunny’s trek to return a small pen-gew-in back to his home in the South Pole after missing his ride from the Brooklyn Ice Palace Show – a Hoboken pen-gew-in, that is. Along the way, he comes across fellow down-on-his-luck American, Humphrey Bogart who hits up Bugs several times for loose change. The short also appears on the Two-Disc SE of Treasure of the Sierra Madre due to the John Huston cameo in which this borrowed from. Ooooh, I’m Dyin”. Duration: 7:07 minutes.
    [*] The Theatrical Trailer is also included here which is in fine shape. Duration: 1:52 minutes.
    [*] Theatrical Trailers are also included at the start of the feature for other WB films including: Happy Feet, The Polar Express, Duma and another National Geographic animal special.


    Special Features: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    March Of The Penguins is a fine documentary and will appeal strongly to nature and animal lovers, but falls short of the mark established by groundbreaking movies along the lines of Winged Migration, say for example. Unlike the usual weekly releases of no-mind fare, the film is suitable for family viewing, which makes for a welcome and refreshing change. However, it's not totally unlike what one might expect to find on any number of educational networks. Remarkable it's not, although the inclusion of Freeman as the decisive narrator, certainly elevates this a notch or two.

    The audio/video presentation is what we would expect for a documentary program and the disc includes a couple of interesting special features, but the decision to purchase a documentary of this nature will vary widely among DVD enthusiasts. For this reviewer, while I'm happy to have seen this, I doubt very much I'd have an inkling to see it again anytime soon. With that caveat, if you do have a thing for pen-gew-ins ("8 Ball Bunny", remember...?), then you should be pleased with the disc, otherwise, this will make a solid rental.

    Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]





    Release Date: November 29th, 2005
     
  2. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Thanks Herb. Although my wife and I loved this in the theaters I'm not sure how much re-watchability this has for us. A rental will most likely suffice for us.

    I can see this going over bigger with families with small children or those who are penguin fans.

    Steve
     
  3. Joel C

    Joel C Screenwriter

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    This was interesting in the theater, but yeah, a little slow and I don't know if I'd watch it too many times (unlike Winged Migration, which had much more diverse photography).

    I DON'T think it is a great family choice, judging by the response from kids when I was in the theater. Every child under five was talking loudly, fidgeting, yelling... I'd say this is better for older children, and even then, it's a little dry.

    Of course, it will probably win the best doc Oscar.
     
  4. GlennH

    GlennH Cinematographer

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    Was this filmed, or shot on HD video? Does anybody have details on the production?

    I keep hearing that it's very good, so I'd like to see it some time. But frankly, I think I may prefer to wait until I can see it in HD. We get to see quite a lot of nature documentaries on PBS-HD, INHD, or Discovery HD, either HD video or the IMAX stuff. After getting spoiled by that I think watching this type of fare on DVD may now be a bit of a letdown.

    It will probably show up somewhere in HD within a year or so.
     
  5. Mike Frezon

    Mike Frezon Moderator
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    Herb: We were of one mind on this. The sequences over the closing credits left me wanting more and I am quite intrigued to see the 54-minute "making of" doc. Shooting this film must have been quite a hardship.
     
  6. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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    Well, the American release differs considerably from the original vision. It would have been nice if Warner had decided to include the original audio and offer subtitles for that track for the DVD release. Although I haven't seen this film with the original French audio, it sounds like it was originally geared more towards younger audiences.
     
  7. Andy Patrizio

    Andy Patrizio Stunt Coordinator

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    You sure you want to hear the original audio track? I heard the voice overs were ludicrous and so silly it totally detracted from the film.
     
  8. CameronMcC

    CameronMcC Second Unit

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    i believe the french not only had a diffrent track, but a whole other cut...where they talked and made jokes....i have not seen it, but wondered with both cuts how it would fare come oscar season.
     
  9. Jace_A

    Jace_A Second Unit

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    In which case, it would be fairly pointless putting this track on the US DVD, given very few Americans speak French and very few young children would be able to follow the subtitles.
     
  10. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    It had a very film-source look when I saw it in the theater...lots of film grain etc. (more so than I would have expected from prints made from HD source material).

    Nice review Herb.
     
  11. CraigF

    CraigF Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the review Herb. I do like the pengies, and other things Antarctic too.

    DaViD: did you ever see Atanarjuat? Does it look like that a bit? Won't get my disc until next week...

    Some sort-of OT queries:

    Anybody who got the Canadian 1-disc version notice if it was a PAL->NTSC conversion? This is not uncommon for European films, especially if a French studio is involved. I'd like to avoid that if possible (i.e. get a proper PAL version, or the U.S. one). Thanks.

    Anybody who got the Canadian (Quebec only??) 2-disc version: is the disc with the French soundtrack the original French version of the film? Or is it a French dub of the "American" version of the film?
     
  12. Kevin_H

    Kevin_H Stunt Coordinator

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    According to IMDB, it was shot in 16mm in the Super 16 format.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0428803/technical

    This is where the sproket holes on the right side of the 16mm frame are dropped and replaced with picture area, so the film is pulled threw the camera with only the left sprokets. This allows a widescreen picture to be created without cropping the already small 16mm frame.

    From the credits, a French company (forget which) scanned the negative and made a digital intermediate, which was graded and scanned back out to flat 35mm prints.

    I was suprised that IMAX didn't apply its DMR process to MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, since it seems all of Warner Bros. big movies these days undergo DMR and are projected in IMAX as well as 35mm. But I guess 16mm is too small for DMR to work on.
     
  13. CameronMcC

    CameronMcC Second Unit

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    also interested in that...any online sites takiing orders?
     
  14. Bill Thomann

    Bill Thomann Supporting Actor

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    I have to agree with Herb & several others in that as good a movie as it was, I don't think it would hold any repeat watch value. No sale. Excellent review.
     
  15. Marko Berg

    Marko Berg Supporting Actor

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    I like to watch films together with my five-year-old and read the subtitles out loud if the film is in foreign language, instead of just using the TV as a babysitter.
     
  16. andrew markworthy

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    I should get my DVD copy of this movie before it opens in movie theatres the UK - cheaper and without annoying kids ruining it. The last couple of child-oriented movies I've seen with my kids (the new Harry Potter and Nanny McPhee) have been ruined by ill-behaved kids talking (I don't blame the kids for this, but I do blame the parents).
     
  17. Yumbo

    Yumbo Cinematographer

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    opening shot is breathtaking.
    but as someone mentioned source, the picture varies in quality.

    lots of grain early on.
    disturbing was the edge bleeding on penguins, very distracting, on the long shots, all as if they had yellow halos, green at some point, like overpushed tint/hue.

    sound, not sure if my speaker is suspect, but a lot of the right surround ambience had distortion and a grating noise.
    will check channel with next movie.

    movie itself had some nice lessons. worth a watch. not groundbreaking though.
     
  18. Keith Paynter

    Keith Paynter Screenwriter

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    I would agree that the theatrical experience would have been more awe-inspiring (save fidgety kiddies) than watching it on a considerably smaller home television (there's something ominous about a 15-foot tall pen-gew-in), and while I had intentions to see it during first run, I never had the time to see it. I will resign myself to a 30" 16:9 rental viewing.

    Thanks Herb.
     
  19. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I'm a bit disappointed reading some of the reviews of the R1 release (is it really a poor PAL>NTSC conversion with ghosting, etc.?), and also for failing to include the original soundtrack. Would I prefer it? Who knows. But there was not a little controversy over changing it for North American audiences, and I think it would at least be interesting to have both versions.

    And I also notice that most of the international versions (French, Korean, Taiwanese) include DTS tracks that have received high marks.
     
  20. Peter Overduin

    Peter Overduin Supporting Actor

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    i bought this in Canada; feeling it was one of the most astonishing films i have seen in a long time. I noted that the Canadian relase doesn't appear to have any extras except the Of Penguins and Men.
     

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