March of the Penguins (Blu-ray)
Thanks to two remarkable films, I've learned more about penguins in the past few weeks than I ever thought I needed to know. The first, March of the Penguins was a surprising hit when it played theatrically in 2005, winning an Oscar that year as the best documentary feature. The second, Happy Feet (review following), won an Oscar as the best animated feature of 2006.
Both films depict the life of the Emperor penguin of Antarctica. It's a remarkable story, and a remarkably brutal life. The penguin's only serious land predator is the unearthly, harsh climate of Antarctica—but that's more deadly than any leopard seal or killer whale.
March of the Penguins, a French production narrated in English by Morgan Freeman, shows us this story in graphic detail. The footage is astonishing. The disc also includes superb extra features, including the "Making of" documentary, Of Penguins and Men which shows how the footage was captured. I found this nearly as compelling as the film itself (though it's not in high definition).
The high definition video on this release (reviewed on Blu-ray but also available on HD DVD) is very good. If it isn't quite up to the consistency you'd expect from a typical feature film, that's understandable. The limitation is in the source material; it's surprising that the photographers were able to get much of this footage at all. To expect consistently meticulously framing and precise focus under the filming conditions would be asking for miracles.
The Dolby Digital audio (DD+ on the HD DVD) is perfectly suited to the film. There are some nice moments in the music score, but don't expect anything here that will wow your friends with the prowess of your audio system. What you get here is simply good, capable audio and video supporting a great film.
Picture: 7.5 (out of 10)…Sound: 7.0…Film: 9.0
(Reviewed on a Pioneer BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player, Panasonic PT-AE1000U LCD projector, 78" wide Stewart Studiotek 130 screen, and Arcam AVR350 receiver. Speakers: Mirage OMD-28 L/R, OMD-C2 center, OMD-R surrounds, and Revel B15 subwoofer.)