Chasing Ice is a film that documents the disappearance of glaciers from key areas around the globe in a way intended to provide real context. Researcher James Balog built a team dubbed Extreme Ice Survey. The team installed cutting-edge time-lapse cameras in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana. Understand that installation of this equipment is no small task. The terrain and climate are, as expected, quite hostile and dangerous. Once installed, the climate assures that the trouble is far from over.
Once everything is working, the resulting montage is quite compelling. We get to see glaciers recede in real time in ways that leaves little doubt as to their wholesale, rapid disappearance. The surrounding material and story includes a number of wonderful shots and tales of nature in its full glory. We also get a bit of a biopic on Balog himself. He’s determined to do his part, we’re told, in order to be able to face his children and tell them that he did all he was able to do.
At turns Chasing Ice is a compelling film but it failed to resonate with me on a number of levels. First, I felt as if it was an effort doomed to fail to change very many minds. The theater I saw it in (which included a Q&A session with the director afterwords) was filled with the already-sold. No one there was a skeptic. Whenever I see such efforts I try to view them with a questioning eye. The makers purposely tried to avoid the more scientific and data-heavy (in their view) approach of An Inconvenient Truth. They instead relied almost solely on the imagery to make their case for them.
The problem is that it leaves far too many holes for skeptics to poke at. Yes, these glaciers are receding but what about others than aren’t? Only a short segment is spent in that area. Are we causing it? The film doesn’t really make the case. Can we stop it? Again, no answers.
The biggest issue I had was the supposed pay-off. The main focus of the film, we’re told, is the time-lapse photography and yet there’s so little of it actually presented. We see no more than a few examples and then it’s done. The same is true for the majestic imagery. When it comes it’s jaw-dropping but, sadly, there’s surprisingly little of it. I also felt as if the focus on Balog was a distraction. He came off, to me, as someone who enjoys the attention and the limelight. I felt as if he forced the team to cover elements of his challenges when they weren’t really necessary for the story.
All in all Chasing Ice was enjoyable and compelling. However, I just don’t feel it’s going to really reach those it needs to reach the most.