From the first frames of this understated little film, the audience is captivated by the lush photography and the eerie beauty of the South Arctic, the coldest place on earth. As Morgan Freeman’s voice rolls over you with its rich warm tones, narrating this G-rated movie, you’re not only educated about the amazing Emperor Penguin, but also introduced to their uniquely harsh habitat.
Without once seeing human beings, or our influence over the environment, we are shown how these lonely birds live in temperatures that can reach less than 80 degrees below zero in the wintertime, with winds up to a hundred miles per hour during the worst storms.
They survive in a climate with less rainfall than the Sahara, and a winter that has fewer days of sunshine than anywhere on earth.
The females bear only one egg per year and the males tend the egg for up to 100 days after it hatches, care-taking over its fragile life while the mothers walk the 77 miles from the breeding grounds (rookeries) to the sea for food.
Eating mainly squid and fish, the penguins enjoy living in the water once their parental duties have subsided. Able to dive for fish at up to 37 mph (60 km/h), and hold their breath for at least ten minutes underwater, they are expert fishers.
The Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes Forsteri) can grow to be an average size of 47.24 inches (120 cm), and weighs from 44- 99.2 pounds (20 to 45 kilograms.) Inhabiting the Antarctic coasts, their breeding area on the archipelago consists of one single colony located on the ice shelf between Carrel Island and the Bon Docteur Nunatak.
They breed in the harshest season, so that when their eggs are laid in May and are hatched in July, it is during a much more temperate season. With an incubation period of 62 to 66 days in 31 degrees Celsius weather (that can go down to -60 degrees Celsius with the wind chill factored in), their chances of survival are slim.
In order to survive the temperatures, the males gather together to form “turtles”, huge groups that stand as closely as possible, facing inward to protect their bodies from the freezing wind and sleet. They rotate the group in a systematic way to ensure that every bird spends some time in the warmest place, the inner circle.
One unique feature of these birds that do not fly, but rather can swim and hold their breath underwater, is that the male of the species takes care of hatching the eggs.
In the four months that they must fast while the chicks are developing in their shells, the males lose up to half of their body weight. But, both males and females endure these hardships so that their chick may live.
During one of the more touching sequences, one of the eggs was cracked while being passed from the female to the male. Within seconds, the tiny egg froze, and the precious life inside was instantly extinguished.
In the hush that fell over the audience, a little girl’s voice could be heard, plaintively asking her mother, “Mommy, what happened to the little bird inside the egg?”
You could hear a collective sigh, as each adult in the theater knew what the mother would be going through later to try to explain the larger picture, the realities of life and death.
For now, all she could manage was “Don’t worry honey, the little bird doesn’t feel any pain.” Relieved, the child went back to watching the movie.
This movie was a treat for me, an afternoon spent in a land far away, filled with mysteries and cobalt beauty. I’d recommend it to anyone who wishes to step into another world, if only for a few hours.