Film Review: Chasing Ice

The vast ice masses and visuals are nice, even gorgeous, but not so the message in this handsome, eye-popping environmental documentary about the interconnection of climate change, carbon rise and melting glaciers as seen through a photojournalist&#821

Much-published photojournalist James Balog, who has logged innumerable cover photos in major magazines like Time and logged a number of years as a National Geographic photographer, takes viewers on a thrilling multi-year journey in Chasing Ice. Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) team of videographers, environmentalists and assistants travel to such icy places as Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana, where they deploy and struggle to secure their time-lapse cameras near glaciers and record a melting planet over the several past years.

The evidence amassed of global warming across these glacier masses outside the contiguous U.S. seems irrefutable (Montana’s Glacier National Park inexplicably gets little mention); for the aesthetically inclined, the images are breathtakingly beautiful. The doc also reminds of the extreme weather events (fires, floods, etc.) that seem to be a byproduct of this warming. Concerned citizens who also value glossy, high-end, high-minded docs will feel rewarded, if not a bit more frustrated by an epidemic of denial fueled by voices from the right.

Balog, originally skeptical, came to realize that this story of warming (aka “the big thaw”) is “somehow in the ice,” and doesn’t just use cameras to make his case. On board Chasing Ice is an impressive group of talking heads, including The Cove Oscar-winner Louis Psihoyas (“You cannot deny the evidence”) and a number of climatologists, glaciologists, other scholars and activists, and even an executive with a giant reinsurer who also weigh in on and bemoan the problem of global warming and Balog’s footage of melting, crashing, disappearing glaciers, sometimes the size of many football fields.

The doc also delivers as an adventure, showing Balog and his team confronting severe climate conditions (raging storms, freezing temperatures, etc.) and geological extremes (such as bottomless ice canyons and slippery slopes as dangerous as they are literal) to place or retrieve their cameras. Because he does so much climbing in such challenging environments, Balog suffers serious knee damage that might endanger his pursuit and sends him to the hospital.

Another kind of suspense enters the picture as camera timers fail. Some, to the joy of the adventurers and viewers, are resuscitated so they can record the damning meltdowns of the glaciers.

And for those who savor words, Chasing Ice also delivers the verb “to calve,” noun “calve,” and adjective “calving” (as in a “big calving event”), which refer to an iceberg that has broken away from a glacier.

Human interest also enters this picture with footage of Balog’s understanding and loving family, wife Suzanne and their two daughters. Suzanne especially impresses with her respect for the power of the calling that drives her husband.

Ironically, it’s the doc's all-important message of the current epochal geological change for the worst we're allowing (and must stop) that's almost melted here, as spectacular visuals steal the show. Hopefully, the movie’s urgent warning, not just the sweeping beauty of those breakaway icebergs and vast, receding icescapes, will linger and help forge policies to protect the planet.