Chasing Ice (review)

Chasing Ice green light James Balog

I’m “biast” (pro): the trailer looked amazing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Could this be it? Could this be the thing that finally makes the doubters wake up and smell the global warming? I think it could be… but only if everyone sees Chasing Ice. Hear that? Everyone must see this movie. Even those who do not doubt. The film isn’t anything like “devastating proof” that the planet is warming — we already have that, in piles and piles of scientific evidence. What we haven’t quite had is the devastating illustration of a reality that moves on scales our human-sized perception typically cannot see. Enter photographer James Balog, whose aim has been to make nature “seductive,” whose work has been celebrated by National Geographic and likened by experts to that of Ansel Adams. He set up the Extreme Ice Survey, invented new equipment for time-lapse photography in extreme environments, and set about documenting the retreat of glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, and Montana. Filmmaker Jeff Orlowski followed Balog and his Survey around for years, from its first photo taken in March 2007 onward, through setbacks and frustrations — turns out that deploying delicate electronics in some of the harshest conditions on the planet isn’t as easy as it sounds — making this, yup, a very human-scaled look at an attempt to capture something happening on a planetary scale. Balog’s photos of the ice are soaring and dramatic and achingly beautiful, showing us realms that most of us would never see even if they weren’t disappearing. But the time-lapse sequences of rapidly retreating glaciers are the kick in the gut that Balog hoped they would be. A few scientists pop their heads in here, a few charts are deployed, but Chasing Ice is powered primarily by the imagery, stark, irrefutable evidence that the planet is warming, not in one or two isolated places but everywhere. (In one sequence, the “calving” of icebergs off a glacier, like nothing that has ever been captured on film before, looks like Hollywood’s idea of disaster. Yet it’s real.) Balog’s work happens at an extraordinary intersection between art and science, reminding us that these two most human of endeavors — no other creatures on the planet make art or do science — are not in opposition to each other but complementary. And probably will need to remain in partnership if we’re going to have any hope of fixing our accidental endeavor of transforming the face of the planet so profoundly.

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