Wednesday, July 27, 2005

March of the Penguins

2005, Dir. Luc Jacquet
80 minutes, color documentary

The story of how the Emperor Penguin treks seventy or more miles across the ice to mate and create a rookery with fellow penguins is as compelling as any animal narrative could be. Penguins offer an example of animal fathers parenting equally, and watching the care with which both parents tend the egg and chick is profoundly moving. The best thing about this documentary is the photography; the camera that lingers over the birds in extreme close-up. It's a privilege to be able to observe them, in movement and in stillness, in a climate no blooded being should be able to call home.

There's a G rating, but parents of young children should know that some eggs and chicks don't make it—we watch an egg freeze on the ice, a father looking on helplessly; in another scene several fathers pass an egg on the ice and stop to eye it; there is a frozen chick. I left early with my six-year-old because that image made her so sad.

I'm going to write in more detail about this over on my other blog Oswegatchie, but I would very much prefer a different philosophy of scoring and narration in documentaries such as this one. There is way too much mainstream pressure on nature documentarians to 1) compare animals to humans; 2) score their "antics" to amuse us; 3) have a narrator blab at us in a not-particularly-enriching way.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Dark Crystal

1982, Dir. Jim Henson, Frank Oz
color, 93 minutes
Ages 6 or so and up

Henson and Oz pushed their muppetry to its mythic potential in this story of a world split into good and evil on the eve of its reintegration. The Dark Crystal gets extra credit points for two strong female characters, one an eccentric astronomer who can remove an eyeball and pop it back in again and the other a gifted animal communicator who (unlike her male counterpart) can unfold her wings and soar; also note the gender-neutral skeksis, creatures reminiscent of vultures. Inventive sets and lyrical interludes make this well worth watching even for any age. The skeksis can be frightening and there are some scenes my children find so suspenseful that they turn their heads away, but in general, they love this one. Bonus features include extensive interviews with the artists about the making of the sets and creatures. A must see for any child into the plastic arts, puppetry or fantasy stories.