Chocolate and Gold Coins

Sunday, March 26, 2006

March of the Penguins

I seldom watch movies and almost never write about them, but I wanted to write about this wonderful documentary I saw with my family called, “March of the Penguins.” This small French team spent nine months in Antarctica to film the remarkable story of the reproductive habits of the penguins and the incredible hardships these birds go through just to produce their offspring.

It is just incredible to see all these birds walking single-file in the snow to reach the breeding ground. Once in a while the lead penguin will be lost and they will gather around not knowing where to go. Then someone remembers and leads them on. Eventually they reach the site. And for the males, that is where they will stay for four months.

This is the incredible thing: they don’t eat. They go completely without food for months so that they can help raise one chick. First they spend a couple of weeks looking for a mate. Then they wait until the egg is laid which takes about two months. Then the females – who are in desperate hunger at this point – pass the egg to the male and the females take off to the sea to eat. Sometimes the eggs roll off in the passing and the egg almost instantly freezes and their efforts are completely wasted. They showed some scenes of parents looking at their frozen eggs – just heartbreaking.

The females go to the ocean and eat for two months to build back strength while the male incubates the egg. This is in the dead of the Antarctic winter. Some penguins just freeze to death during the extreme winds and cold temperatures. They need to keep their egg on their feet and keep it warm with their bellies for the entire time – for four months!

When the chicks finally hatch, they give them a little stored food they kept somewhere in their stomachs. It is amazing the sacrifice these birds will go through for a chick.

Then the females return – and not a moment too soon. They take over caring for the chicks while the males return to the sea. Each of these journeys is about seventy miles and when you see the penguins waddle it looks like the equivalent of a human journey of 1000 miles. Many males simply die on the way back to sea – they were just too weak. And many chicks die of freezing and predators. It really is a tough life for a penguin.

After a couple of months, the females leave – often before the males return – because they are so hungry. The males return once again to care for the chick until it is ready to go into the ocean.

And that is the most extreme anti-climax. These parents suffered so much for the chicks and by the time the chicks go into the sea the parents are gone. The chicks swim by instinct. And when it is time for them to mate – after four years – they will go through what their parents did by instinct.

I have to say that the French crew did an incredible job capturing all of this on film. The conditions could not been worse for filming or for just living for that matter. But they persevered. Perhaps they were inspired by the penguins.

In ten or twenty years, such a documentary would not be so remarkable. Robotic cameras (which the French did not use) will allow the filmmaker to film the wildlife in the most hostile environments without putting a human in the wild. But for now I have to admire the French crew’s courage and tenacity in bringing this incredible story


  • Hi Michael,

    How've you been ? We saw this movie a while ago in the theater. I thought it was really beautiful, not just the cinematography, but the tone itself.

    There is such incredible complexity in the nature when it comes to mating and procreation...we really have it easy in comparison :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:26 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    Did your son enjoy the movie ? We saw the film in a theatre and just loved it. So we recommended it to some colleagues who had kids thinking the kids would love it. Couple of them did go with their kids - turns out the parents or the grandparents liked it more than the children. The latter thought it was too slow and 'not much action' (I am talking about 6-12 year olds here).
    I am not blaming the kids, but seems like the definition of cool has changed a lot !

    Anyway, MoP was probably one of the few really worthy Oscar winners this year.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:05 AM  

  • I doubt there will be an ice shelf or penguins left in 20 years. But by then penguins will probably have evolved gills or something to keep em alive in water, so its all cool.

    By Blogger gawker, at 8:19 AM  

  • Yes, this was one incredible movie.
    Watched it in the theatre with the whole family. My 3yr old dozed off and my 6yr old watched the movie. But as someone has commented above, we enjoyed the movie more than our kids.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:38 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    I'm a regular reader of your blog and really like your style of writing.

    I loved this movie too. It's an awesome movie. The dash of humour in the movie and the corresponding scenes was what made the movie special for me.

    By Blogger Swapna, at 7:29 PM  

  • oh i gotta catch it then! Love they way you've written down so much about it.

    By Blogger shub, at 8:38 PM  

  • Hi Patrix, Ash, BongoP, and Gawker

    Patrix: There are two types of potential robotic cameras - automatic and remote control. The automatic ones are use to find snow leopards and other hard to find animals- they wait for months for an animal to cross the track of the camera but of course it never focuses on the animal so it is frustrating to watch.

    The R/C camera would be more like a video game. The operator would see what the scenery is like and could manuver the camera to the location he/she chooses. I think that the camera quality of an R/C camera would be excellent and the cameraman would not risk life and limb trying to get the incredible shot.

    Hi Ash: Indeed what the penguins went through to make a chick is incredible. But humans dont have it all that easy compared with most animals. Many animals abandon their young at birth. Humans spend 18 years raising a child into an adult.

    I remember very well the effort of caring for a newborn baby. The sleepless nights and the constantly feeding, bathing, changing diapers and such. But babies are so cute then. Now my son is seven and can take care of himself for the most part (other than the $ to pay for everything he wants and needs). But sometimes I miss him as a baby.

    BongoP: Yes he did. He is really interested in wildlife. But the part he was most interested in was the underwater photography. He loves marine life. He was amazed to see how the penguins swim. The part about the birds huddled together in the extreme cold didn't interest him as much.

    Gawker: Let us hope that the ice shelf is there.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 11:38 PM  

  • Hi Rajeshwari, Swapna, and Shub

    Rajeshwari: Indeed, I think parents would really understand what the penguins suffered much more than the kids. But my son was really interested in it.

    Swapna: Thanks.

    Shub: I hope I didn't spoil it for you.

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 11:41 PM  

  • This was a really nice movie.....and like patrix had heart. Robots wont always achieve that.

    There was another superb nature doc last year, Winged Migration......quite spectacular too....and that DID use some robotic cameras. Well worth your time, and your son should love it.

    By Blogger Sunil, at 3:42 PM  

  • I HAVE to see this movie. Till then I have to sadly ignore this review as I usually read reviews after forming my own opinions.

    As I am not adding any thing to this post, I will run away now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:58 PM  

  • try Planet Earth.
    Awesome camerawork. Cutting edge photography. Worth grabbing a DVD

    By Blogger Abhi T, at 11:20 PM  

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