The Iceman Cometh, but the Ice Runneth Away: “Chasing Ice” in the Era of Climate Change

Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice (Jeff Orlowski, 2012)

This is an important film about an important subject that nevertheless falls far short of being a great film. The director, the relative novice Jeff Orlowski, who is also one of the shooters and is in the film at one point, chooses to tell his story of climate change through the point of view of nature photographer James Balog, a man whose Extreme Ice Survey group is responsible for most of the imagery we have of glacier recession from the past 10 years. He is a seminal figure among those sounding the bell about rising global temperatures. Somehow, however, the film’s focus on this one man makes the entire topic feel narrow, rather than universal. I liked the filmmaker’s close attention to detail, but I would have preferred an approach with 2 or 3 other major players in the field, to broaden the view.

We follow Balog as his team sets up digital cameras in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana, against a backdrop of conservative skepticism from the likes of Sean Hannity and James Inhofe. Some of the still images we see along the way, as well as some of the video footage of calving glaciers, is truly impressive. Some of the scientific information we learn is very useful. I particularly liked the analogy, presented by one scientist, comparing what steroids do to the body to what greenhouse gases do to the planet. When it was all done, and the final credit song, performed by Joshua Bell and Scarlett Johansson, of all people, played under the titles (which were up on the screen for far too short a time – very hard to read), I felt informed, but less engaged than I thought I should have been. And it’s not because I’m a climate change skeptic. Rather, the slightly clunky approach to the material kept me on the outside.

But I do recommend this film for those who want to see what is happening to our glaciers. If you want more info, check out the Chasing Ice website.

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