Vic’s Review – “Chasing Ice” (2012)


Follow National Geographic photographer James Balog across the Arctic as he deploys time-lapse cameras designed for one purpose: to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.

“Chasing Ice”

Directed by Jeff Orlowski

8 out of 10

Skeptics of Climate Change are far and wide and it is no doubt that there has always been and always will be heated debates and exchanges as to the validity of it all. National Geographic Photographer James Balog is one individual who some years ago, did not give climate change much credibility. He was among those who thought that everyone was being “Hoodwinked” and that CC investigations were made up of “Garbage Science.”  Renowned for his nature photography and his books, Balog decided to pursue something he had never taken on before. Not lions and animals but Ice. Yes, Ice.

Balog wanted to see if there was any evidence that could be documented to prove, once and for all, that climate change is a formidable problem. Balog turned to Cinematographer Jeff Orlowski (The Last Good Man) and with some funding with NG and the help of several assistants (Adam and Svavar), Professors and tech heads he starts the “Extreme Ice Survey” in order to document the changes in glacier ice sheets in Greenland, Alaska and particularly, the  Solheim ice sheet in Iceland.

Spanning over the course of several years, Balog and his team set up time lapse cameras and equipment all over the arctic circle and let time take over in order to catch some images of the ice sheets either receding or melting. Balog says that his photography is a way to “raise awareness” and he goes out to prove this to everyone who will listen and observe. He is dedicated, agile, smart and knows how to capture an image. Balog, personally, is always separated from his wife and children and suffers drastic knee problems causing him to have had multiple surgeries. But he pushes on taking on the elements.

The ice, cold, white outs, near misses, close calls and frozen tundras do not keep Balog and his guys from trying to get those elusive shots or rather “tangible visual evidence.” DP Orlowski takes the journey with him. The movie is beautifully photographed. It is vivid, alive, eye opening and astounding. We get some wonderful contrasting shots of ice and as Balog and his team walk around, Orlowski captures amazing images of how small they all appear to be among the mountains, ice and glaciers. Balog also displays some appealing night time images as well.

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Between montages of the gorgeous and frosty scenery, we get to know Balog through snippets of footage whether he is at his doctor’s office getting his knees examined or being prepped for surgery. In one emotional moment, upon finding out one camera has stopped shooting, he breaks down and cries openly. These bits appeal to me because it humanizes Balog and shows us his strengths and passions. The film is about processes and education. The science is real (as real as this layman can make out) and the photography is not steeped in sensationalism even though some of the exchanges can come across a bit alarmist at times. Balog knows what he wants and sometimes he gets it. For example they capture a piece of ice half the size of Manhattan breaking off of the Solheim Glacier. It was astonishing.

I held my breath the entire time as the immeasurable chunk of ice broke off and floated away. It was so primordial and moving. Also, Balog gets footage of the beautifully patterned Cryoconites, which are remnants of particles, ash and dust that form under the ice. For the most part, Balog lets his pictures and images do the talking. After his survey is complete, Balog does a lecture and a showing of his findings and images (much of which consists of time lapse work) which is one of the best parts of the movie. Balog even becomes a bit of a celebrity, making the rounds on CNN, NBC and so on.

“Chasing Ice” is a thought provoking piece even if some may think it has an agenda. Is it steeped in the politics of the controversy? Maybe but it does not shove anything down your throat. Despite where you stand, and if you think this is more propaganda which is preaching to the converted, you can’t deny those images and Balog’s determination.  The “Glacier Watching” sequences near the end (with Adam and Svavar) is incredibly breathtaking and unbelievably rewarding.

Another piece the size of Texas “calves” off and rolls around before floating away. Overall the calving took 75 minutes. I think as a reminder of where we are in the grand scheme of things it is an important must see film that has that great Doc feel and an emotional heart supplied by Balog’s own backstory. The images, though, at the end of the day, will move you and have you in a state of pure awe. It is an ambitious and profound experience. Highly recommended!

Vic’s Note: Currently there are more than 30 Time Lapse Cameras running in Alaska, Iceland, Greenland, Mt. Everest and Glacier National Park.

Check out this amazing footage!

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