Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘March of the Penguins’ processes against Hollywood’s slide

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Aug. 18, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie review

The art film sensation of the summer season has arrived. At a recent showing of the French documentary March of the Penguins the theater was filled with grandparents and grandchildren.

As a child I enjoyed reading books about animals. I enjoyed the movies of the late ’40s about singing birds and, of course, the later Walt Disney films on nature, such as The Olympic Elk.

With Morgan Freeman as an excellent narrator, March of the Penguins tells the incredible story of the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica as they mate to carry on a new generation of offspring.

The story is told in anthropomorphic terms, as if it were a love story told about human beings with emotions. Some may not find this aspect of the film helpful. But admittedly it makes for a good story.

After four years in the sea where food is close by, young Emperor Penguins and adults who have made the journey before begin a 70-mile-long march inland where the ice will not melt in the summer. This is so the newly hatched penguins to come will be in the right place when their parents leave them alone. The young birds will be just several hundred yards from the sea that will be their habitat for four years.

Luc Jacquet and his French film crew beautifully film the long march inland as the penguins walk and sometimes glide on their stomachs in a straight line.

As we watch eight months in the lives of the penguins beginning in the late fall, we see the power of a species seeking to make sure it reproduces itself. After the egg appears it is transferred to the male, who keeps it warm in a pouch near his feet. The mother returns the 70 miles to obtain food and bring it back to the chick when it hatches. At that point the male leaves the chick to be protected by the female from temperatures over 100 degrees below zero. He too marches back to the sea to get food.

As the temperatures drop the penguins form a giant circle and gather close together. They have a system that allows those birds on the outside to eventually move to the interior and then back out so everyone has chance to be in the warmest area.

The toughness of nature is shown as some mothers seek to steal an egg when theirs has been frozen. Also, there are dramatic scenes that would not be good for very small children, when large, hawk-like birds come and pick off one of the small penguins as the adults seem to do nothing.

The scenes of Antarctica include shimmering shapes and colors. The music of the film helps to pull you into the powerfully told story.

Seldom is there a film that crosses over from children to older adults. But March of the Penguins is such a rare film. Just because it got its fame from big-city art houses should not keep the widest possible audience from a memorable scientific and artistic achievement.

March of the Penguins is rated G – for all audiences - by the Motion Picture Association of America. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-I – all audiences.


Short Takes

• Until this summer I had never seen Fox Television’s program House, airing Tuesdays at 9 p.m.

The main actor, who plays Dr. House, is Hugh Laurie. He is nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama series at the September Emmy Awards for Television Achievement. His acting in this formulaic medical drama is outstanding.

Laurie plays a crusty, pain-ridden doctor whose expertise is diagnosis of disease. He and his staff of three young doctors each week take on a patient whose disease is not yet known. As they go through the possibilities Dr. House has a way of alienating just about everyone. If you like great acting, give House a look.

• I recently finished Marilynne Robinson’s first and only novel before her superb Gilead. The novel, Housekeeping, was published in 1980. It is the poignant story of two sisters living in Northern Idaho as they are raised by their grandmother, two great aunts and, finally, by an Aunt Sylvie.

I really had to work at reading Housekeeping. It uses long descriptions of forests, lakes, and villages to explore the meaning of the loss of a parent or relative. Housekeeping is about life and death. It tries to help us grapple with our fleeting existence and the beauty of living each day. Housekeeping is available in large-size paperback from Picador at $14.

• Father Martin Pable, a Catholic retreat director from Marathon, Wis., has a new short book out, titled Remaining Catholic: Six Good Reasons for Staying in an Imperfect Church. It is published by ACTA at $9.95.

Father Pable writes straightforwardly of key reasons why the Catholic Church is a good place to live and worship even in very difficult times. His approach centers on community, tradition and history, sacraments, Scripture, and mission. Actually the short history sections and longer section on sacraments makes this a good book to pass on to someone interested in becoming a Catholic. He gives a good basic introduction to the Catholic Church.

There’s a quote that suggests there are now 25,000 different Protestant denominations. That seems way too high to me. I would assume this means someone is counting each individual community church as independent from any national denomination.

• The Aug. 12, 2005 issue of Entertainment Weekly has an interesting article on “Why Moviegoers are Mad – and How to Fix it.” Sixteen thousand people responded to a readers’ poll. One question: “What’s the main reason for going to movies less often these days?” The response: 34 percent said the price of a movie ticket is too high; 19 percent said that people in the audience are incredibly annoying; 14 percent responded that the whole experience is less satisfying; and 14 percent said that movies just aren’t as good anymore.

My experience is that it has been a long spell this spring and early summer, where there has been more than a couple of movies I have been excited about seeing. Also, the advertisements before the movie previews are becoming endless and seem much worse than television ads.

• Incidentally, year-to-date movie box office take is down 7 percent.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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