Thursday, September 22, 2005

Documentaries: March of the Penguins and A State of Mind

PENGUINS! Everybody loves penguins!

March of the Penguins (La Marche de l'Empereur)

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 July 2005 at Loews Harvard Square #3 (first-run)

A few weeks ago, a message board I frequent spawned a topic along the lines of "why are people spending money on a nature documentary? Don't they know that they can get this sort of thing for free on cable?" One of the interesting points of view in this discussion was that held by the people who said they would watch it for free on Animal Planet, and they'd spend more money to see a version half as long on an IMAX screen, but couldn't see the point of just seeing it as a regular movie. This saddens me, because it's well worth the ticket price, and all that seems to be keeping people out is genre prejudice.

The source of the film's appeal is so simple that one wonders why there aren't more high-profile nature documentaries - giving people a chance to see something extraordinary in an immersive environment. Sure, IMAX would be more immersive, but those gigantic cameras would be a real pain to haul around Antarctica and might be more likely to spook the birds. And while this type of film is more frequently seen on television than in multiplexes, that's a shame, because nature documentaries are among the types of films that benefit most from being seen on the big screen: You may be seeing the same pictures and hearing the same sounds, but it is a different experience to have the theater be a secondary presence around the edges of the film than to see the film through a portal in one's own living room.

Read the rest at HBS.

A State of Mind

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 4 September 2005 in the Coolidge Corner Theater's Screening Room (Coolidge Selects) (projected video)

Watching A State of Mind, two contradictory impressions of the people of North Korea went through my head. The first was that they were people like any other, and the ones we see are intelligent, hard-working, warm, and friendly. For the most part, they are exactly the kind of people one would desire as neighbors. The second impression is that they are part of some kind of quasi-religious cult, with the entire country serving as the planet's largest cult compound.

Scant few films have been made about North Korea, at least compared to films that use it as a generic villain, and this one initially purports to be less about the country itself than about one of its newer traditions, the Mass Games. The Games are a stunning pageant, combining music, gymnastics, and animated mosaics in a display that celebrates Communist principles. We follow two young Pyongyang girls, 13-year-old Pak Hyon-sun and 11-year-old Kim Song-yun, who spend hours after school each afternoon training for the Games, an event which happens once or twice a year, and carries great prestige because president Kim Jong-Il may be in attendance. The training is intense, and may all be for nothing if the school's group is not selected to participate in the pageant. But being selected is a great honor, and one the girls will work hard to merit.

Read the rest at HBS.

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