The penguins’ story is not always picture-postcard.
Penguin Post Office is an episode of Nature, PBS’ long-running documentary series. This go-around is the story of a British post office at the tip of Antarctica whose scenery includes the breeding grounds of several thousand Gentoo penguins. The documentary focuses on one summer during which we get to see the penguin life cycle. It’s a story featuring everything from their original arrival on the Antarctic peninsula to the process of attracting mates and building nests, caring for their young, and finally the evolution of the chicks into fully-fledged penguins who return to the sea at the end of the summer, which also coincides with the end of the tourist season. The framework of the documentary is said tourist season. Over the course of four months cruise ships come near enough to deposit tens of thousands of people who are able to see the penguins in their natural habitats as well as visit the post office and not only send a postcard or letter but also buy any number of penguin-themed souvenirs, many which help support other Antarctic charities besides the penguin themselves.
If you’re not familiar with the Nature series, you should know that at times there is an unflinching honesty to the subject matter being documented. This is quite apparent in Penguin Post Office, to the extent I feel I must offer a trigger warning for those who have adverse reactions to scenes of death and violence within the animal kingdom. Penguin Post Office may at first glance seem as though it’s the story of a cute group of penguins who help make the British post office in Antarctica the most popular tourist destination for the region, which they definitely do and it definitely is. However, it does not shy away from portraying some of the more violent aspects of a penguin’s life and, as such, there are a few scenes which may upset some viewers, and I include myself in that description. I actually found a couple scenes very disturbing and I was unprepared, though to be fair, that is due to my own expectation of what the documentary was going to detail. I should have instead kept at the forefront of my mind the series I was actually watching. So consider yourself warned that not all is cuddly and awe-inspiring.
Technical specs are pretty straightforward, the standards for currently airing public television programs. The video is a 1.78:1 transfer and, as with most nature documentaries, care is taken to capture the subjects in their best light. The palette is natural and a bit subdued but, then again, the region where it was filmed is mostly snow and ice, so it’s hard to expect pops of color. The audio is a typical Dolby 2.0 track with no issues and the subtitle option will help if the myriad of international guests speak with accents you’re unfamiliar with.
There are no special features.
It’s difficult to know how to word my recommendation. On the one hand it really is fascinating to see how humans and penguins are able to brave some of the harshest conditions on the planet together, and the penguins in particular show remarkable resiliency. And they are awfully cute to boot. I guess I would offer a recommendation to go ahead and get Penguin Post Office as long as you go in with your eyes wide open in terms of understanding that there will be some violent and possibly disturbing scenes within the documentary which may temper your enjoyment.