Sunday, July 10, 2005


Bad News For Cruise

First, Tom Cruise jumps around on a sofa during a chat show. Then he bizarrely attacks Brooke Shields - not for being a spoilt, whiny brat - but for using antidepressants.

And the latest news is Cruise's blockbuster War of the Worms has been knocked off the charts by a film about the mating habits of Penguins.

Star penguins walk all over Tom Cruise
John Harlow, Los Angeles

THE film star Tom Cruise is being savaged at the American box office by a troupe of lovelorn birds.

March of the Penguins, a low-budget wildlife film about the mating habits of the emperor penguin, is promising to be the surprise hit of the summer after pulling in larger audiences at the few cinemas where it has been shown than Cruise’s War of the Worlds and the other summer blockbuster, Batman Begins, combined.

It has proved so popular in its first two weeks in 20 cinemas that it was opening at 350 others this weekend.

"This film is awesome," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Exhibitor Relations, which analyses ticket-buying habits for Los Angeles studios. "No one saw it coming and where it’s been released so far it’s outperforming all the big boys. It’s all down to word of mouth, friends’ recommendations rather than studio hype."

The film - described by one critic as an avian version of When Harry Met Sally - was born with a classified advertisement in a French newspaper in 1991 that read: "Wanted, biologist willing to spend 14 months at the end of the world."

Luc Jacquet, who at 24 had just graduated with a masters in animal biology from Lyons University, applied and found himself in Antarctica with a 35mm camera and instructions to "follow the bloody birds around until they mate".

"What I really discovered in Antarctica is not just that it has the strongest winds on earth - and of course penguins only mate in the deepest winter when temperatures are down to -85F - but that I wanted to tell stories," Jacquet said.

Back in France, it was the year 2000 before he wrote the screenplay for the film, a love story about penguins who walk up to 70 miles though blizzards in search of the right ice shelf on which to breed.

With some funding from National Geographic, he returned to Antarctica for 13 months, trailing a flock of birds and shooting the footage of love, sex, birth and death he needed for his narrative.

"I think they are a very special species," he said. "There are very few animals, or even humans, that can communicate their feelings so well, and make us laugh and weep at the same time."
Audiences have been entranced. The original French-language version of the film - which cost just £5m to make - has been the third most successful in France this year.

The penguins are riding a wave of successful documentaries such as Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me and, perhaps most closely, another French nature film, Winged Migration, which followed birds around the world.

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