Category Archive for: ‘Michael Ferguson’

Chasing Ice — Film Review

Chasing Ice

Directed by Jeff Orlowski

 

 

This is a film about making a film, rather than the film that should have been made.  I think a good opportunity was missed.  This film should have been about the melting ice, the retreating glaciers, and the implications this has for the world.  Instead it was a self indulgent portrayal of James Balog, the photographer in charge of the mission, the suffering hero, and the trials and tribulations of making a film in the harsh conditions of the Arctic.

What is good in the film is the spectacular photography of the glaciers, ice formations, and seascapes in the frozen worlds of Iceland, Greenland, and Alaska.  The film visually documents the dramatic retreat of the glaciers, which is accelerating with the warming of the Earth.  They placed 25 cameras set to continually photograph numerous glaciers throughout the Arctic creating a time-lapse record of the ice melt and retreat of the glaciers that is undeniable.  There is powerful footage of a massive calving from the Colombia glacier in Alaska the size of Manhattan.  One cannot help but be awed by the visual beauty and obvious, alarming decline of these unbelievably massive glaciers.

The film falls short in establishing the significance of its own report.  So what if the glaciers are melting?  Let them melt.  Who cares?  The film does not deal with this.  It does not spell out the implications of all of this melting ice for climate, the oceans, and human societies.  There is brief, passing mention that 150 million people will be affected by a sea level rise of one foot, but who, or how, and over what period of time is not described.

The problem is that too much time is spent on James Balog and the gory details of how the film was made.  All of this should be relegated to minor footnotes.   Frankly, I don’t find James Balog particularly interesting, nor his wife, his kids, his knee, nor all the different problems he had getting his cameras to work under the inhospitable conditions of the glaciers.  He is much too grandiose and masochistic for my taste.  Tramping through ice water in his bare feet to get the best shot.  Gimme a break!  He thinks he is going to save the world through his self sacrifice.  But carbon dioxide is at 391 parts per million and it is still climbing.  That is about 30% more than the maximum over the last 800,000 years.  The Earth is in for some rough sailing ahead and there is nothing we can do about it.  The only question is how extreme the catastrophe will be and how quickly it will rain down upon us.  Balog claims he wants to inform people and get the message out about global warming;  he should do that and get himself out of the way.

Much of the film is preoccupied with the petty troubles of the expedition and establishing what a great photographer James Balog is and his dedication to the project and how much he is prepared to suffer and punish his body to accomplish this noble challenge.  But the issues this film should be dealing with are far bigger than James Balog, his life, or any of the difficulties in making the film.  The dirty laundry of how the film was made should be kept well in the background.  His photographic work is stunning and incomparable.  He really is the Ansel Adams of the Arctic.  If he would put his work in the forefront instead of himself, I would go see anything he does.

This film offers some magnificent views of the glaciers of Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska, and it establishes without question that what is going on is well outside the boundaries of normal fluctuation.  Maybe the filmmakers thought that simply showing the glaciers and documenting the severity of their melting would be too boring, and therefore they felt they needed this human interest aspect to draw people in and hold their interest.  Actually it is the other way around.  I found myself getting impatient watching them figure out the best way to mount a camera on the side of a mountain.  I want to see the pictures they took with that camera once they finally got it to work.  So the film is worth seeing, but it gets a little tiresome and falls far short of its potential.

 

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