A few days ago, I reviewed March of the Penguins, a well-regarded documentary film that’s doing quite well here in the US (despite being a well-regarded documentary film):
Like many sleeper hits, there’s something quite unHollywood about it; it wasn’t manufactured to push specific demographic buttons or market tested to within an inch of its life. It’s handmade, crafted, and full of soul.
Turns out the film is not quite so unmanufactured as I thought. The original film (en français) features voiceovers for each of the main family characters (dad, mom, baby boy) and some French pop songs. The effect is quite cheesy at times, particularly during the singing of the love songs. I wish I had a video clip for you watch…I’ve seen bits and pieces of the French version and can vouch for Joe Leydon’s take on the film:
Once he focuses on the primary couple, however, Jacquet uncorks the schmaltz while employing actors Romance Bohringer and Charles Berling to voice penguins murmuring sweet nothings to each other. It’s easy to understand helmer’s desire to personalize the birds with anthropomorphic affectation. But it’s difficult not to laugh out loud as nuzzling penguins pledge their troth as each other’s “soul mate.”
After seeing the film at Sundance, an exec at Warner Bros. initated a change in the film to ready it for American viewers:
Warner Bros. president Mark Gill saw the film at Sundance, called writer-director Jordan Roberts and asked if something could be done to make it more appealing to American audiences. Jordan wrote a narration, performed by Morgan Freeman, and hired composer Alex Wurman to create a new score. The final result is showing in close to 2,000 theatres across America.
The narration by Morgan Freeman is not a close translation of the original French voiceovers and I think it’s a better film that way (for a US audience, at least). It also explains the odd pacing of Freeman’s narration at times. Anyway, as I said above, not quite the clear expression of artistic vision as I’d assumed.