Sometimes an import can gain something in translation. Case in point: “March of the Penguins,” the smartly Americanized edition of the breathtakingly beautiful nature docu reviewed by Variety in French-lingo version under its original title — “The Emperor’s Journey” (“La Marche de l’empereur”) — at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Aimed squarely at auds that flocked to “Winged Migration,” fascinating pic about penguin mating rituals could waddle through leggy summer run with savvy marketing in limited release.
Helmer Luc Jacquet originally used an anthropomorphic approach while dramatizing the procreation cycle of emperor penguins in frigid Antarctica icescapes. Specifically, he focused on a single couple out of thousands, “individualizing” the pair by employing actors Romane Bohringer and Charles Berling to voice the penguins murmuring sweet nothings to each other. (Jules Sitruk voiced their eventual offspring.)
Revised version prepared for co-release by Warner Independent Pictures and National Geographic Feature Films is more traditionally objective, with Morgan Freeman sounding the perfect notes of bemused wonderment and sympathetic seriousness while reading Jordan Roberts’ apt narration. (Penguins are viewed en masse, not up close and personal.) Americanized edition also replaces most of original’s somewhat overbearing score with less intrusive mood enhancement by composer Alex Wurman.
Despite trimming of five minutes for faster pacing, pic still renders brutal life-or-death struggle against nature with a vividness of detail that may frighten very small children. But spirit-lifting finale will delight auds hearty enough to brave the journey.