"Chasing Ice" is a documentary film issued in December 2012. It chronicles the efforts of photographer James Balog to carry out his "extreme ice survey"- a project that involves taking time lapse photographs of glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska in order to evaluate their rate of decay. Okay, in case you wondered, yes, the topic here is global warming. Balog, a longtime National Geographic staffer, at first was a skeptic on the topic, but soon became convinced of the dangers posed by greenhouse gases to the global climate.
The film covers Balog as he sets up cameras, deals with frustrating glitches and failures, then obtains fascinating images from extreme places. His personality comes through loud and clear, as he deals with a serous knee operation and struggles to clamber up the sides of glaciers, in scenes which are occasionally terrifying. Imagine ice blue waters cascading into an abyss carved hundreds of feet into a glacier, and men leaning over the edge to get a good shot. No thank you, not for me.
This is a science documentary while at the same time a character study of Balog himself. In terms of science, it contains good stuff, but could have been more thorough. An explanation is provided for the process of glaciation, and the scientific study of ice cores, which have informed us of the fact that the current Level of carbon dioxide deposited in the sky by humans exceeds the amount there of any time in the past 100,000 years. And we are well on the way to pumping enough up there to exceed the amount that has been there at any time for the past ten million years. I wanted a little more, especially more detail about why melting ice is such a menace; an explanation of the dangers of growing sea level rise to coastal communities, and why the gradual disappearance of glaciers in the Tibetan plateau would imperil the survival of millions of citizens of India due to starvation.
A couple of scenes stand out. There is one in which an ice field is time lapsed at night, which stars wheeling overhead, and the ice glittering like diamonds, and the northern lights shining like a glowing green curtain. it is unbelievably beautiful. But there is another scene, in which they film a calving event at an immense glacier in northern Greenland that is terrifying in its sheer immensity and violence. The point of that is to explain the scope of the changes that global warming is beginning to wreak, and to remind us that humans are the driving force behind those changes. There was one additional compelling visual factoid flashed on the screen, a correction to the argument that some glaciers are growing. technically true, the film admitted. yes, 95% of glaciers are shrinking or gone. the rest of them are growing. And considering that we are actually in the early stages of the warming process, we are looking at a future planet nearly devoid of summer ice.
Overall, I would rate this film as a "b" effort. It was not brilliantly written, though it does add to our understanding of the climate change challenge, and contains moments of powerful connection and sheer visual beauty for the audience. For the record, I viewed it at the Richmond Virginia Environmental Film Festival today. For more information, visit www.chasingice.com or www.extremeicesurvey.org.