Friday, February 24, 2006

March of the Penguins

I've been spending the last few days watching a whole lot of documentaries: "Jump London", "Marijuana - A History," "Guns, Germs and Steel", Barely Eighteen Vol. 25... Oh, not documentary ah? Sorry sorry..... and the best of the lot, March of the Penguins.

Some of you might have seen the poster hanging in the new cinema at One Utama. It's the same documentary. It chronicles the annual journey of the emperor penguin, a bird that usually swims, but travels a journey of more than 70 miles on foot each year to mate and lay their eggs. It is an epic story.

70 miles in the cold of winter is but the beginning. When they arrive they search for a mate, with which they remain monogamous for that season. The female lays one single egg, which costs her almost one third her bodyweight expended in energy, leaving her starving and desperate for nutrition. She then transfers the egg to the male - no easy task as the egg cannot be left in the chilling, killing cold for anything more than a few seconds - and travels the 70 miles back to feed. After she fattens herself, she comes back again. By this time the egg would have hatched, if it has managed to survive the cold or the clumsiness of new fatherhood, and it is the male's turn to travel that massive distance while the mother regurgitates food for her chick. They do this repeatedly until the end of the season, when it's warmer and the ocean is but a few hundred feet away.

I'm always on my guard against anthropomorphy whenever I watch documentaries, but this one can't help but pull on your heartstrings. You feel heartache as you watch the penguin fathers huddle together in the dead of -80°C weather, taking turns in the relatively warmer centre of the group. Some of them can't stand it and simply go to sleep, never to wake again, taking two lives as he goes, even as the mother is gorging herself so she can come back to feed her unborn chick - a futile 70-mile journey. And the scenes where the young chicks come out to explore and play can't help but make you smile. You see the naivete and joyfulness of youth in the penguins that you once had, and you realise that juvenile animals share many similiar traits.

Then again, the musical score is perfection itself. Every flute solo, orchestral symphony, and even the moments of silence capture the mood of the scene without flaw.

Poignant, touching, awe-inspiring. Wow.

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