We’ve come a long way since Marlin Perkins unveiled “Wild Kingdom” to television-watching nature buffs in 1963. Over forty years later, technology has provided filmmakers with the means of depicting nature in increasingly startling ways. Yeah, we’re a movie-going society of Jedi-loving techno-geeks. But the recent success of Winged Migration and the gorgeous, animal-themed classics of Carroll Ballard remind us that magic, awe, and wonder also exist on our own planet. “Deep Blue” will plunge viewers underwater this summer, to bask with Hairy Anglers and transparent jellyfish that pulsate with the colors of a Close Encounters mother ship. Meanwhile, French biologist-come filmmaker Luc Jacquet keeps us on top of the sea, skating on thin ice with a colony of altogether different creatures.
March of the Penguins is an intimate, focused look at the eventful courtship of Emperor Penguins inhabiting the Antarctic. Morgan Freeman’s world-wise voice narrates the film, which lowers us onto the thick March ice of the South Pole. Scads of these waddling birds enjoy the season’s final fair-weather days by gorging themselves on fish, in preparation for a grueling, 70-mile walk to suitable breeding grounds. What human analogy best fits this pre-mating ritual? Being fitted for a tuxedo prior to the Senior Prom? Tuxedos are an appropriate motif – the Emperor Penguins appear to wear them as a permanent fixture.
Watching thousands of these beaked, black-and-white sea birds as they convoy together and travel across blinding white landscapes might come across as a boring, repetitive sight. Amazingly enough, Jacquet finds endless variations on how to film his flippered friends. When the flightless forms finally congregate at their birth place and pair up, the director films these cooing couples as they trace each others’ contours with beaks and foreheads. The mood is intimate and – well, yes… romantic.
Later, it’s a tear-prompting ocean of drama when an impatient young penguin couple fumbles the handoff of an egg from expectant mother to would-be father. The mistake breaks their precious cargo, and the egg dies. Later on, it’s frightening to watch hungry, feeding mothers seeking underwater meals, only to become lunches to predatory seals.
After screening his film at the Seattle International Film Festival earlier this summer, Jacquet enters a press room at the “W” Hotel, with an interpreter in tow. While the Frenchman appears confident with his understanding of the English language, he is less assured in his enunciation of these words. Dressed in a heavy white sweater and jeans, he comes across as someone gearing up for a back-country camping trip or Alaskan wildlife expedition. He listens intently to my questions, and responds in French to his attentive interpreter. The interpreter then translates his words to understandable English. The end product of this unique exchange, in which Jacquet explains how “March of the Penguins” was filmed, follows…
Get the interview in part two of TUXEDO TRAVELERS>>>