Movie Review: Chasing Ice
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Leave political leanings and skepticism at the door; the story is in the ice, or the lack thereof.
Directed by Jeff Orlowski, “Chasing Ice” humanizes a geological phenomenon by using time-lapse images to show the alarming devastation of glaciers.
The footage is the work of acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog, who was once a skeptic of climate change but founded the Extreme Ice Survey in 2007 as a means of providing visual evidence of how global warming is affecting the planet.
The documentary chronicles Balog and his team on their quest to place 25 time-lapse cameras in Iceland, Greenland and Alaska to create a three-year record of major changes in glacial formations.
The cameras were designed to shoot year-round, every half-hour of daylight. The team then assembled the images into video animations that demonstrate the dramatic retreat of glaciers.
However, things didn’t run quite so smoothly. Treacherous weather destroyed some of the cameras and led to the installation of customized computer chips to preserve the integrity of the project. The resulting footage was astonishing.
“Chasing Ice” takes you to remote places of pristine beauty, places that are rarely visited. Amid the beauty, enormous blocks of ice break off from the glaciers and drift into the water, a process called calving. In some instances, this occurs so quickly and drastically that Balog had to pivot the camera to follow the ice as it retreated. One glacier even loses the height in ice of the Empire State Building.
The filming of the project was made all the more difficult for several reasons: the remoteness of the locations, the need to tweak the cameras’ technology and Balog’s own personal health problems. In several instances, Balog visits doctors to deal with his worsening knee problems.
Yet, Balog’s photographs are stunning, crisp compositions in white and blue that impress against the sharp clarity of the Arctic. He contends that the ice structures that he photographs are as individual as human faces and, at times, we see a portraitlike resemblance.
Though “Chasing Ice” was not nominated for a best documentary Oscar, J. Ralph’s “Before My Time” was nominated for best original song. With help from the melancholy soundtrack, the serious undertone isn’t lost amid the breathtaking ice.
The heart of the documentary is nestled at the end, when Balog gives presentations of his artwork to the masses. He compares climate-change denial to visiting dentist after dentist, in hopes of finding one who will admit that an abscessed tooth is nothing to worry about. While visually and emotionally stunning, “Chasing Ice” raises almost as many questions as it answers.
At one point, Balog tells the audience that, “we have a problem with perception because not enough people get it yet.” Maybe, now they will.