The 2006 Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” presented its arguments on the terrible realities of global warming in methodical, statistical and academic terms, following its professorial protagonist Al Gore as he trekked through airports, auditoriums and lecture halls to deliver his message.
“Chasing Ice,” the latest documentary salvo in the growing body of evidence that global warming is indeed a dangerously looming reality, aptly serves as a more visually stunning and action-oriented bookend piece to former Vice President Gore's didactic film treatise. And it features as Gore's counterpart scientist, National Geographic photographer and one-time global warming doubter James Balog, who scales massive icebergs, leaps frigid crevices and rappels down crystal ice faces to bring home his message.
A craggy outdoorsman with wobbly bad knees, Balog — working with director and cinematographer Jeff Orlowski under the umbrella of a project called The Extreme Ice Survey — ranged across several continents with time-lapse cameras to capture hard-core evidence of startling climate change.
Deploying 25 cameras in harsh conditions near icebergs at locations in Greenland, Iceland, Brazil, Montana and Alaska during a three-year span, the filmmakers sought to demonstrate how the world's glaciers have shrunk more in the past decade than in the previous 100 years. Their hypothesis draws a sharp link between diminishing icebergs and rising water levels that have devastated coastal areas from New Orleans to New York and New Jersey during recent superstorms.
Much of the imagery captured here — time-lapse sequences of shrinking glaciers and masses of ice “calving” (or detaching) from huge glaciers — possess a terrible beauty. To watch a hunk of ice the size of several football fields fall into the sea and break apart is a disturbing sight that demonstrates nature's raw brawn as well as its ultimate sensitivity to the meddling hegemony of man.
Balog's assertion is that shrinking glaciers are our canary-in-the-coalmine indicator of looming “apoco-geologic” change. They are, he says, “the place where you can see climate change happening.”
While at times “Chasing Ice” verges on celebrating Balog as an intrepid environmental warrior with a bit too much Indiana Jones bravado, the film nonetheless stands as an engrossing tribute to the rugged art of nature photography as well as an impassioned visual plea for action that, coming so close in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and its widespread devastation, should cause even hard-core skeptics to sit up and take notice.
— Dennis King