"March of the Penguins" is the story of a colony of Emperor Penguins who follow the circle of life, as they leave the sea in sub-zero temperatures to travel 70 miles across the frozen wasteland to procreate. This engrossing documentary film was shot by a French crew during 14 gruelling months in Antartica. In its initial French language release "La Marche de l'Empereur", the penguins were given actors' voices and the original soundtrack had some songs sung by Emilie Simon but was generally humorous in style. In the English language version, the penguin voices have been removed and in their place we have Morgan Freeman as narrator, and the soundtrack has been replaced with instrumental music by composer Alex Wurman. Now much closer in format to the nature films produced by the BBC and David Attenborough, "March of the Penguins" has been phenomenally successful at the US box-office. The penguins face many perils as they seek their traditional breeding grounds, lay and tend their eggs then rear their chicks under these extreme conditions.
As with many documentary films such as Deep Blue, the music plays a critical role in establishing the tone of the film. In "March of the Penguins", the composer finds beauty in this the harshest of continents, and a metaphor for all life in the struggles of this band of penguins. As indicated by the film's title, the emperor penguins do indeed march. This is the annual migration to their breeding grounds but, since it is more of a waddle than a strict march, Wurman steers well clear of traditional march music with its military precision. Instead the style is light and airy, more impressionistic and dance-like than march-like. The dominant instrument is a flute whose flowing melodies sing with emotion on a bed of strings and tuned percussion with piano, harp and vibes. Synthetic sounds are woven seemlessly among the acoustic ones in the kind of ambient background which beautifully supports the visuals without overpowering them. Indeed the music stands very well on its own, supplying a mood of peace and relaxation. The penguins face many dangers and trials, but the music avoids any abrupt changes in style. Even in "The Dangers Remain" the flute may flutter and the chords turn a little darker, but the overall mood hardly changes.
The mesmerising soundtrack to this engaging movie can be found at either of these locations: Amazon.co.uk in the UK, or Amazon.com in the US. Stocks are currently low but the DVD of this movie is available at these links: Amazon.co.uk (region 2), or Amazon.com (region 1).