by Kevin Taylor & r & March of the Penguins & r & Penguins have always been portrayed as cute and funny. They wear tuxedos! They waddle! They've been played by Burgess Meredith!
Thanks to the documentary March of the Penguins, these enigmatic creatures are showing their deeper, darker sides. They brood! They sacrifice! They love!
And when darkness and death come hurtling toward them with an icy savagery, the penguins shoulder together, raise their slender beaks and rage back.
"They resist." That's the assessment of French filmmaker Luc Jacquet, who spent 13 months along with Michel Fessler filming an Emperor penguin flock in Antarctica.
It's important to note that Jacquet's insightful comment on the penguins is voiced in one of the illuminating extras that comes with the DVD release of March of the Penguins.
The extras include a "making-of" documentary that deals with Jacquet and Fessler -- you might call it "March of the Frenchmen." There is a second, equally revealing documentary on other penguin researchers; a nation-sized iceberg you may have heard about, B-15; and the ins and outs of "critter cams."
If you've seen the 85-minute feature film, you know what you get: stunning photography and sound recordings along with syrupy narration by Morgan Freeman that at times veers too far into anthropomorphizing the penguins.
The DVD extras help keep the focus on what is so astonishing: Penguins march miles and miles away from the sea to a fortress of ice and rock where they mate and raise their chicks in a place where there is no food.
The good sense of this strategy is revealed slowly; and the dedication and eloquence of Jacquet and Fessler -- who stayed through an entire mating, birth and weaning cycle -- handle this powerfully.
The short run time of the main feature leaves questions that are answered in the extras. The filmmakers stayed in a French research lab about a mile from the flock. Each suffered frostbite. The critter cam footage takes viewers on wild torpedo ride under the ice. Leopard seals are scary. Penguins are fearless and inquisitive.
And, after all dat loinin', as one famous wabbit might say, there is dessert: a Bugs Bunny cartoon where the crusty rabbit comes to the aid of a "peng-you-in," as he calls it.