Review: Chasing Ice (2012)

National Geographic documentary Chasing Ice is one man’s mission to expose the impact of climate change using unique time-lapse photography.

Chasing Ice is a National Geographic documentary about the work of James Balog, a scientist-turned-photographer making the case for climate change. Balog’s project to capture changes in ice using photography began as a one-man expedition but very quickly escalated into an exhaustive study capturing years of footage of glacial melting and ‘calving’ (the term to describe areas of glaciers which break off into the sea, becoming icebergs) using newly engineered technology.

Balog set up the Extreme Ice Survey to monitor the changing landscape of glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland and Montana. The documentary follows Balog and his team as they set up the project and begin to gather information from their photography. Years of footage is compressed into a few minutes of exquisite time-lapse, including the largest ever glacier calving ever captured on film. Balog’s photography and time-lapse footage are undeniably spectacular; it is worth watching the documentary for this alone. But the real point of the documentary is to educate, and the beauty Balog captures is, rightly so, overshadowed by complete sadness at the dying glaciers – the equivalent of a “canary in a coal mine” in showing the physical effects of climate change.

Chasing Ice is not only focused on the hard science of climate change. For Balog and his team, just building and installing the cameras was a feat requiring patience and endurance, and not without plenty of disappointment. Their persistence to record is incredible and makes for captivating viewing. The personal focus on Balog is also a nice touch – it demonstrates his unnerving passion for the cause and his brilliance as both a scientist and a photographer. He is a remarkable person.

The documentary is thick with inventive analogies – one of the best is that doing nothing about climate change is like ignoring the advice of 100 dentists. Balog’s view is that things need to be placed in a scalable context, and visualised in an understandable way for them to be taken seriously. The devastating calving at the crux of the film is overlaid with an image of Manhattan, showing the enormity of the glacier’s destruction in shockingly real terms.

Chasing Ice is an eye-opening documentary and most definitely worth a watch in HD for the time-lapse footage. James Balog describes himself as a messenger – attempting to help people understand the negative impact we are having on our planet. If this documentary does not ensure his message is received, then surely nothing will.

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