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Thirteen years after his Oscar-winning “March of the Penguins,” documentarian Luc Jacquet returns to Antarctica to provide another portrait of the species’ trek-heavy lives with “The Next Step.” Unavoidably, this sequel is, for all its majestic beauty, somewhat less awe-inspiring than its revelatory predecessor. Once again boasting narration from Morgan Freeman, the doc has a gracefulness and understated profundity that’ll naturally appeal to those who loved the first film, making it a coup for streaming service Hulu, its exclusive American distributor.
First released in French theaters last year (with narration by Lambert Wilson), and shot over two months, “March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step” delivers a slightly different perspective on emperor penguins, here via the prism of the relationship between fathers and sons. That bond is forged early, as dads are required to cradle eggs to protect them from the frozen ice that will surely kill the embryos contained within, and then to alternately care for their brood while mom is away gathering food. The dads also venture out to sea themselves to partake in some fishing.
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Before that instinctive process can begin, Jacquet touches on the unique identifying calls that penguins use to attract partners, and the “secret language of penguin flirtation,” which is comprised of inscrutable mating cues that the director depicts in some of the film’s innumerable close-ups. As with the BBC’s “Planet Earth” series, “March of the Penguins 2: The Next Step” is marked by stunning 4K cinematography (courtesy of a group of ace camera operators), which, married to expert sound design, creates engaging and occasionally exhilarating...
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