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Adventures of the Penguin King: Film Review

The Penguin 3D Film Still - H 2013

The Bottom Line

This mainstream theatrical release is inferior to its shorter educational-film cousin.

Opens:

Friday, December 6 (Cinedigm)

Director:

Anthony Geffen

Anthony Geffen double-dips with a second documentary employing the same previously-screened penguin footage.

Hollywood is used to the phenomenon in which two identical-sounding films hit theaters within months of each other -- be they killer-asteroid blockbusters or literary biopics -- often with each spoiling the other's chances with ticket-buyers.

Such would seem to be the case with the nature doc Adventures of the Penguin King, which like the recent IMAX featurette Penguins observes the breeding habits of king penguins on the Antarctic island of South Georgia. The earlier film was narrated by Sir David Attenborough and this one by Tim Allen; but the stories are as uncannily alike as those of Capote and Infamous.

But a hypothetical penguin-freak who sees both films will find even more surprising similarities: Didn't I see the exact same jokes about farting elephant seals in that other film? Is that the very same petrel whose menacing beak threatened to crack penguin eggs last time?

Yes and yes. Watching Adventures of the Penguin King is a bit like imagining what would happen if the makers of Olympus Has Fallen had looked at its box office figures and thought, "What if we take our footage, make the film a bit worse and twice as long, and put it in more theaters as White House in Danger! before that Channing Tatum/Jamie Foxx movie comes out?"

Here, the producers trade the first film's unsatisfying gimmick (its cinematography wasn't well suited to IMAX-size projection) for another: 3D. For Adventures, the Penguins filmmakers take the same general approach as they did the first time: telling their elementary-school audience we're watching a single penguin and his mate (buried in the credits is the disclaimer, "featuring several King Penguins") in order to anthropomorphize the mating cycle and gin up suspense when orcas and other predators approach. But where Attenborough's script lent an air of dignity to the shorter film, Allen's reading of Philip LaZebnik's cutesy narration has a canned feel, and is unlikely to connect with viewers too young to appreciate cliched humor about the joys of bachelorhood versus the duties of parenting.

Geffen and editor Rob Hall don't help, failing to convey any sense of passing time between scenes that span many months. On the bright side, Simon Niblett's cinematography is more appealing on small screens: on DVD with the sound turned off, the film would make fine eye candy for kids listening to their favorite music for the zillionth time.

Production Company: Atlantic Productions
Director: Anthony Geffen
Screenwriter: Philip LaZebnik
Producer: Sias Wilson
Executive producer: Anthony Geffen
Director of photography: Simon Niblett
Music: James Edward Barker
Editor: Rob Hall
PG, 76 min.