March of the Penguins appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Partially due to the rough conditions in which the movie was shot, March suffered from a few minor problems.
To be sure, I didn’t envy the horrid environment that the filmmakers had to endure to shoot this sucker. With temperatures usually below zero, this must have been an unpleasant situation, and I’m sure that affected the quality of the visuals.
Nonetheless, I found the transfer less satisfying than I might expect. Grain was one definite distraction. Much of the movie looked grainy, and this sometimes marred unlikely shots. I expected it from nighttime elements, but plenty of grain could be seen in daytime bits as well. Otherwise, the movie lacked many flaws. I noticed a couple of marks but nothing anything major.
Edge enhancement was the other significant issue. I detected haloes around the penguins with moderate frequency. No problems with shimmering or jagged edges occurred, though, and sharpness was more than acceptable. The definition varied somewhat and could go from very distinct to simply good, but the sharpness was never worse than adequate.
Colors usually looked fine as well. A few slightly pale shots occurred, but those were infrequent. There weren’t a lot of bright hues on display, but the transfer rendered the colors with good definition and clarity. Blacks were nicely deep and rich, and low-light shots mostly came across with solid delineation. Due to the conditions, a few were a bit on the dark side, but I know those issues couldn’t be helped. Overall, this was an inconsistent but perfectly watchable image.
While not particularly ambitious, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack proved satisfying. Music dominated the soundfield. March boasted near constant use of score, and those elements blended into all five channels in a smooth manner. Narration stayed in the center, and effects usually remained modest. Storms provided the most active effects pieces, as wind gusted all around the room. The chittering of the penguins also used the side and rear speakers acceptably well when necessary. Though the soundfield didn’t dazzle, it opened up matters to a good degree.
No issues with quality occurred. The score was always bright and lively, as it boasted crisp highs and rich lows. Effects didn’t get much of a chance to shine, but they were clean and accurate and also featured positive bass response. Morgan Freeman’s narration sounded distinctive and natural. I noticed no roughness or problems connected to intelligibility. The audio complemented the material.
A few extras crop up here. The major one comes from a documentary entitled Of Penguins and Men. In this 53-minute and 42-second show, we hear narration from cinematographer Jerome Maison as he discusses the attempts to film the penguins. We get a good look at the challenges faced by the crew as they faced the rugged conditions.
“Men” also offers more material with the penguins themselves, which I could have lived without, to be honest. We see enough of them during March, so I’m more curious about how tough it was for the humans. Well, at least we get to see how penguins do the nasty, a scene cut from the “G”-rated March. “Men” repeats a fair amount of information from March, but it gets into enough new material – especially in regard to the crew – to make it worth a look.
Next we get National Geographic’s Crittercam: Emperor Penguins. The 23-minute and 29-second piece looks at the penguins from more of a research perspective. We learn about questions related to the birds and watch techniques used to get more information about them. The “Crittercam” – a camera attached to a penguin – acts as a tool in that regard. We also find notes about the impact of climate change on the birds. Inevitably, we receive notes already covered in the other programs, but this one’s unique perspective makes it valuable.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we discover a seven-minute and five-second cartoon called 8 Ball Bunny. The 1949 short shows Bugs as he attempts to help a lost penguin find his way to the South Pole. It’s a reasonably amusing cartoon that originally appeared on the Treasure of the Sierra Madre DVD due to a Humphrey Bogart connection. Given the inclusion of a penguin, it makes more sense here.
A true sleeper hit, March of the Penguins came out of nowhere to become one of the summer’s most notable successes. And it deserves this, as it offers a warm and involving tale of determination and survival. The DVD presents mediocre visuals along with good audio and a few decent extras. Though not an outstanding DVD, the content earns this one a recommendation.