This film is the only English language film made by a Norwegian(?) director and easily qualifies as being one of the strangest most patchy films I have ever seen.
The story is simple enough. John Hurt playes Forbrush, a spoilt rich post graduate student who is supposed to be studying biology at the University of London. He is very good in his chosen field, but is largely wasting his time drinking and chasing women. He decides that he wants to impress Hayley Mills, and semi- accidentally gets signed up for a 6 month tour studying penguins on his own in Antarctica. Once there, his loneliness drives him half mad, and he becomes paternally attached to the penguins he is supposed to be studying. In the course of the six months he grows up and becomes an adult as opposed to the fop that he was
The first half hour of the film is almost excrutiating. John Hurt wades through an appalling script (by none other than Anthony Shaffer) and does his best to be drunk and fey and enamoured by Hayley Mills. This part of the the film resembles an Ealing Comedy forged by a drunk Estonian. Once the story arrives in Antarctica, things pick up. Hurt's acting improves markedly, and the penguins start trying to steal the show. There is a heavy duty snowstorm, heaps of literally astonishing scenery, and Hurt starts chewing the scenery as he goes mad.
The main thing wrong with this film is the script. The dialogue is frequently stilted and shows a poor understanding of motivation and character. (Particularly in the earlier scenes). To make matters worse, the direction is thoroughly uninspired. The odd thing though, is that the spirit of the film shines through these mechanics. This was a film made in hardship, and made with love. You CARE for Hurt as he grows up, you can see why he becomes attached to the penguins, why he hates the Skuas, and how his time alone and his hardship makes him grow into a far improved version of his earlier self.
While it is far from being the best made film that you will ever see, I think that this film's spirit will live with you for a long time. Anyone who has ever needed adventure in their life, will understand and probably love the journey that this film delivers.
The DVD master is appalling. There are almost random changes in aspect ratio, from 1.85.1 (occasionally) through to the standard 4.3 fullscreen. There are frequent major distrubances in the image, partly caused by bad storage of the original film, and partly by what looks like a semi-broken telecine machine.
That said, I am glad I own this one. It makes me feel happy to watch it and it makes me think. While it is a curiosity its' whole adds up to far more than the sum of its parts.
...And it is definitely one of the oddest films ever made.