Movie Review: Chasing Ice (2012)

Chasing Ice is another movie that I watched because of the Oscars — it was nominated last year (85th Academy Awards) for best original song (“Skyfall” won that year). Otherwise, I probably never would have heard of the movie, which would have been sad, because it was so beautiful.

◊ Metadata

IMDb page
Wikipedia entry
Run time: 1 hour, 15 minutes (75 minutes)
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language)
Director: Jeff Orlowski

◊ What’s It About?

Chasing Ice follows photographer James Balog, founder and executive director of Extreme Ice Survey, a “long-term photography project that merges art and science to give a ‘visual voice’ to the planet’s changing ecosystems” (source).

The movie introduces Balog and then goes with him to Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska, as he sets up cameras (Nikon D200s, incidentally) with custom-made intervalometers to create amazing time-lapse photos of retreating glaciers.

There’s a strong climate change theme to it as well — how could there not be when photographing the world’s melting glaciers? (Despite cherry-picked reports you might see on ultra-conservative websites, most of the world’s glaciers are in retreat, according to the World Glacier Monitoring Service

◊ What I Liked Most About It

By far, what I liked most about the documentary was the photographs. Not because I’m a photographer, but because they were amazing photographs. And they weren’t amazing just because they were of amazing subjects — glaciers, icebergs, and so on — but because they were recorded very well by a detail-oriented photographer.

(You can see some of the images on the EIS website here, and then click the gallery links in the right column of that page to navigate to other images.)

◊ What I Liked Least About It

Perhaps what I liked least about the film was how short it was, but then I might have also complained if it was too long.

The song that is heard during the closing credits, “Before My Time”, wasn’t terribly impressive — even though its Oscar nomination is what led me to the film. Don’t get me wrong; I was taken with Scarlett Johansson’s voice — I just think the song itself wasn’t that good.

◊ Overall Impression

Overall, the film is short and to the point. At the same time as being a documentary of one photographer’s mission, it’s an adventure story, a fight against amazingly pointless deniers, and a National Geographic-style visual wonderland. The video work was just as beautiful as the photos it described.

If you really don’t care for the movie’s message, feel free to rent this anyway, mute your TV, and watch it to some of your favorite music. I think the images alone are worth it.

  1. Shari says:

    Well, I looked it up since you wrote about it. I thought I’d heard that the “retreating glaciers” was a myth, so I started out to find that this guy had simply started in the Spring and stopped in the Fall, but along the way I learned some interesting stuff. While there is a glacier in Alaska that is growing, the rest have been retreating for over 200 years. Glacier Bay didn’t even used to be there. (Hmm, that sounds like Arkansas grammar, but I’m in too deep to know how to fix it!) I had heard about the “mini ice age” of the late 1700s before, but heard more about it last night in relation to the ice caps being so far advanced at that time. So thanks for talking about the movie; even without watching it I gained some education and cleared my mind of some junk I may or may not have actually heard. :)

  2. Wil C. Fry says:

    As for “started in the spring and stopped in the fall”… He went back each year though, so every spring and every fall.

    Yes, many glaciers have been retreating for quite some time. One thing people like Balog have learned is that the *rate* of melt has increased tremendously over the past few decades.

    Another thing they’re learning from glaciers has to do with ice cores. They drill out a core sample and study the many layers of compacted ice, some of it containing air bubbles thought to be very, very old.

    Through these cores, they’re learning how much carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere at various times through history, and how it compared to global temperatures at the time. It seems that temperatures and C02 always go up and down together (over a geological time period), and currently we have more C02 in the air than ever measured before.

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