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Movie Review: Chasing Ice

December 6, 2012

I’m not much of a one for reviewing movies, but this is one I think everyone ought to see.

Chasing Ice, a documentary, follows the tracks of photographer James Balog and his crew as they set out to create time-lapse motion pictures of the retreat of glaciers.  The idea is to set cameras in place with timers so that each will record one still photograph of a single scene from a single viewpoint, once in twenty-four hours.  The cameras will be left untouched, and the film record retrieved every six months, to be assembled into motion pictures of glaciers in motion.

In 2005 this had never been done before, and requires whole new sets of technology, cameras, timers and voltage regulators, and a team of mountaineering adventurers to place them in some pretty daunting mountainsides.  The locales are at the melting ends of glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana.  The results are stunning, in more ways than one.

The glaciers under observation are in a state of accelerated collapse and retreat that, now that it can be seen as a movie, is more horrifying than any pop-culture genre film you will see.  Such films are fiction; this one is just scientific record, undeniably true even for those who still doubt the existence of climate change.  Some of the statistics, presented graphically, recall those of Al Gore’s movie.  Chasing Ice presents a clear picture of science and photographic record, unmistakable and beyond argument, but it carries no taint of politics or posturing.

We follow James Balog and his technical and field team from the germ of the idea in 2005 to the present, as he presents the results to astounded audiences.  These glaciers are as he calls them “the canary in the coal mine,” the sensitive warning system of impending doom.  One glacier is shown retreating in ten years a greater distance than (as the record shows) it had in the previous hundred years, to a haunting piano score that serves to emphasize the unfolding tragedy.  We are witness to the cataclysmic collapse of another glacier, the calving of an iceberg the size of lower Manhattan.   On the crest of Greenland’s icecap, deep canyons of white ice show blue rivers descending into the bottomless pit.  There is no end in sight.  The water is going to lubricate the underside of the icecap, to speed it ever faster to its demise.  At one point Balog, briefly overcome by the magnitude of destruction that he is now recording, pauses to remind us:  “You go out over the horizon—and sometimes you don’t come back.”

There is some hauntingly beautiful still photography also, of ice forms and weird lights, of the aurora borealis, that helps us understand the passion that polar explorers have always shared for these extremes.  But what is more haunting is the thought that these images tell us only the beginning of a story that is unfolding now, that has already begun.  We don’t know exactly how it will end, but the scientific evidence keeps coming in that the earth’s atmospheric temperature has risen, sea levels have risen, the predictions of extreme weather patterns are being proven.

I’m not writing this to convince you of anything.  This movie will be able to do that, and if it succeeds with you, then the best thing you can do is recommend it to everyone you know.

The canary is singing, louder every day.  Can you hear it?

Now playing at the Rafael, and at select theaters around the nation, but not for long.  http://www.cafilm.org/

Check the film website for more information, including where now showing:  http://www.chasingice.com/

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. December 6, 2012 4:07 pm

    Look forward 2 hear all this from U.

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