"The March of the Penguins"
At the Drexel, Bexley, Ohio

"That Penguin Movie" at the Drexel happens to be a major masterpiece. This improbable full-length feature film about the lifecycle of penguins at the South Pole would sound like a joke. How about watching grass grow?

But it takes its place alongside "Microcosmos" in the small but growing niche of nature documentaries that are truly great enough to stand up to theatrical release.

The March refers to the seventy-mile walk these emperor penguins must take back and forth from their breeding grounds to the sea to feed.

When they are four years old, these beautiful non-flying birds leave the frigid ocean and walk to a place where the ice doesn't melt. Here they mate and create their eggs, which they carry around in feathered sacks beneath their bellies.

The father and mother and father take turns commuting back and forth to the ocean to feed themselves. The perilous journey is complicated by having to leave one mate or the other back on firm ice with the egg, and then the chick, which must be kept warm and fed. Whoever dreamed up this arrangement must have been a truly cosmic sadist!

A well-written narration is nicely delivered by Morgan Freeman. The music is low-key and appropriate. The calling calls of the birds themselves are haunting and powerful.

The OTHER PAPER here in Columbus panned the film with the snide sentiment that the narration read too many "human" feelings into these birds. In particular it derided a point where a mother whose chick had died was described as suffering "unberable" angst. The reviewer, who shall remain unnamed, thought this was not credible.

But lets get real. These animals are highly intelligent (they have not, for example, elected George W. Bush their president, or invaded Iraq). Their astonishing, selfless labors in bringing these chicks into the world amidst the barren, frigid reaches of Antartica are beyond torturous.

To think any mother, penguin or otherwise, would not mourn the loss of a child under such circumstances is to be simply blind. Especially when it's soon established that a mother penguin who loses her chick often tries to steal another one from another mother. (The flock, explains the film, "will not allow it").

Overall, this is an absolutely gorgeous film. I saw it once in its entirety, then twice again in significant chunks. It only got better. Visually, it is astonishing. It is beautifully written and edited. The storyline is incomparable and extremely well presented.

I am still at a loss to understand how this film was actually shot. It's a tribute to the filmmakers that they never intrude, and that the movie is seamless in its presentation.

But WOW! How did they get under those freezing waters to film the penguins feeding themselves, and being picked off by the occasional seal? Who sat on that pack ice in the dead of the Antarctic winter, filming those incredible birds huddled in a phalanx, standing for months against the unearthly cold?

Whoever it was, thank you. This film is an absolute masterpiece. Don't miss it.