It’s kind of a weird thing to write, but the new documentary “Chasing Ice” makes global warming beautifully mesmerizing.
Take Two profiled the film last week, but then we fell into the pit of Thanksgiving, during which, perhaps, you flocked to Lincoln or the new Bond film, like I did. Among my friends, I’m sort of notorious for being hard on environmental documentaries. But “Chasing Ice,” playing for two more days at Landmark's Nuart in west LA, is well worth your time.
In order to give the film some sort of dramatic shape, it follows photographer James Balog as he sets up his Extreme Ice Survey in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana. The project’s an effort to grab a public that, as Balog says, doesn’t want to hear about any more statistical studies, and grab that public “in the gut.”
Balog is obviously aware that the work he’s doing is important to climate activists and scientists. “This is the memory of the landscape,” he says at one point, waving around a flash card with months of photographic data on it. “That landscape is gone. It may never be seen again in the history of civilization, and it’s stored right here.” He sounds not a little triumphant. That’s okay because he actually accomplished something: a visual record of receding glaciers.
Two younger men who work for Balog got the best job, well, sort of: they camped out for a couple of weeks and tried to wait for a major incident. They were on the phone with Balog saying they were out of luck when it finally happened (as you can see in the trailer). I probably would have been happy just looking at 45 minutes of the ice “calving” off the end of the glacier. (I certainly could have done without the signature Oscar-bait song starring Scarlett Johanson, but I'm sort of hard on film scores, too.)
The technical achievement of time-lapsing months of glaciers melting is astounding. But when a glacier breaks an enormous chunk off of itself and it sploshes into the water like a giant bath toy, that’s the crux of what the filmmakers are trying to show you, which is: our climate is changing, and its changes are visible in real time.
Plus. it’s only 76 minutes long. I liked “Lincoln,” but COME ON: why are movies getting so long when our attention spans remain so short?