For The Penguin King 3D, Attenborough reunites with filmmaker Anthony Geffen after their BAFTA-winning Flying Monsters 3D, for another 3D adventure that takes us to the island of South Georgia, following the life of a King Penguin from adolescence to adulthood.
Fully grown and ready to emerge from his life as a bachelor, the documentary tells the story of a King Penguin coming back to the island he was born on, looking for a mate, and wanting to start his own family.
In a nature documentary like this, there is a fine line between telling a story that is too human, too anthropomorphised, and one which is devoid of emotional impact, and The Penguin King toes that line very well. The narrative of our young bachelor entering fatherhood is a highly engaging take on telling the story of the life of a penguin, whilst never taking things too far; there is a story to be told, and it is told brilliantly.
The story of The Penguin King is one anyone can enjoy. It has all the elements of drama, comedy, and even notes of tragedy, and it is to the film’s credit that it doesn’t shy away from these sadder elements, giving us enough of the harsher side of nature to remain grounded in fact.
But of course, for the vast majority of the film, the penguin’s story is a light-hearted one. He finds his mate, and after a rather more graceful encounter than many other animals display, there comes an egg.
And then the waiting game begins. Our King must sit on the egg and keep it warm and safe whilst its mate goes off into the ocean in search of food in preparation for the baby’s arrival.
Much credit must be given to the crew who survived an arduous fourteen-month shoot in sub-Antarctic conditions. Very few productions are bringing us the kind and quality of footage that is on display here, and the lengths to which they go to get their footage is utterly commendable.
It is not just the story of this new family of penguins we are treated to, but we also see some of their fellow residents on South Georgia: the Macaroni penguins, the fur seals, the (enormous and flatulent) elephant seals, the albatross, the vicious giant petrel, not to mention the killer whales / orcas out in the ocean. With footage both on land and underwater, this is by far one of the most impressive documentaries I have seen in a long while, with some of the most extraordinary footage.
Shooting with unwieldy 3D camera rigs, many of which they modified especially for the film, must have been indescribably difficult on a location like this. Yet the magnificent quality of their footage belies no such difficulty, and every visual is an absolute delight to take in, a true spectacle.
Credit is also due to composer James Edward Barker, whose score adds a terrific texture to the footage, setting the tone wonderfully as an excellent extra layer to the narrative.
And of course, it all falls into place with Sir David Attenborough himself narrating our King Penguin’s life adventure. Whether he is present on the shoot itself, or absent as he is here, Attenborough’s documentaries have that special something that very, very few others can compete with, and he has shown once more the extent to which is on the very cutting edge of documentary filmmaking.