Look, I don't ask a DVD to give me everything I need out of life. And studios often do a fine job of outfitting high-end rereleases with enough bells and trailers and commentary tracks to keep a viewer happy for hours, if not an entire weekend. But when it comes to releasing new DVDs, some home-entertainment execs have been neglecting their MBA thinking caps. I speak specifically of March of the Penguins.
The movie has been in theaters long enough that anyone with a soft spot for anthropomorphic nature documentaries has probably seen it twice. Thanks to enthusiastic cheerleading from social conservatives, a whole generation of baby Republicans has been spoon-fed some gorgeous Antarctic cinematography along with their monogamy propaganda. (I regard this development with total amusement: Maybe those kids will learn to identify with the rest of the animal kingdom and find themselves defending evolution in their red-state classrooms in a few years. Or, when another nature doc shows up on their favorite public television station, maybe they'll wonder why God allows bonobos—but not people—to engage in same-sex antics. But I digress.) The DVD will sell fine and it makes a cute stocking stuffer. But if Warner Home Video wanted to make a real killing, they would have released a subtitled French version as one of the bonus features on the dubbed American DVD.
The original La Marche de L'Empereur, released in its native France, was—in comparison with the avuncular Morgan Freeman lecture we got here—a whole different beast. (As of this week, Scarecrow was renting the French DVD, without English subtitles, for people with region-free DVD players, but get there fast because they may decide to sell off their old copies now that the American version has arrived.) In French, there is no narrator. Instead, three penguin characters get their own voices: the lady penguin, the penguin daddy, and the bratty baby. The penguins brag about how they love and suffer and how brave they are—it's egregiously, hilariously anthropomorphic. The penguins describe their avian race as "le people"—the people, or the nation. The lady penguin announces that she has "a date with love" on the other side of the ice. But the best part is the actual mating procedure. "Our nuptial dance will open the winter ball," says Mrs. Penguin in seductive tones (my translation is approximate). Then she flops down on her belly as a disturbingly Freudian English-language pop song explains what she's up to: "Won't you open for me," the singer coos, "the door of your ice world?"
After the sex act is over Mr. Penguin says something about how in the course of the next nine months (I think this figure is metaphorical rather than scientific), the penguin dancers will lose and then find one another again, and that if their ballet has been harmonious, they will live on. C'est vraiment bizarre. But it's very funny.