Haven't we seen "Chasing Ice" before?
Why yes, in fact, we have. It came out six years ago, back when it was called "An Inconvenient Truth." Both films are nature themed documentaries, using intriguing evidence to warn audiences about climate change while also providing ample backstory to humanize our main environmental crusader in the hopes of making his message even more potent.
There is, however, a difference. Al Gore's Oscar-winning feature used plentiful charts, graphs and statistics, occasionally interrupted by startling visual proof. "Chasing Ice," on the other hand, centers the movie's case on its star's extensive and compelling collection of visual evidence, with charts and stats intermittently cutting in. Surprisingly, while "An Inconvenient Truth" may be the landmark movie that established the modern enviro-doc template, it's "Chasing Ice" that presents the more compelling and cinematic argument.
Director Jeff Orlowski's film follows renowned nature photographer James Balog as he attempts one of his most daring and expansive projects, the Extreme Ice Survey. The mission is to set up several dozen time-lapse cameras across several nations, chronicling years and years of changes to some of the globe's most visually arresting glacier formations. Balog's plan is to collect these photos into short vignettes, serving as clear, indisputable proof of humanity's staggering impact on some of the planet's most fragile natural wonders
Things don't always go as planned for the eco-conscious explorers. Many of their time-lapse cameras refuse to properly sync up, creating inconsistent footage. In other cases, the cameras' programming flat out refuses to work, mostly due to the beautiful but harsh conditions in locales like Alaska and Greenland. The equipment isn't the only thing taking a beating either. Throughout filming, the constant hiking and climbing takes a toll on Balog, resulting in numerous knee surgeries and several warnings from doctors to slow down, advice more often than not ignored.
As it turns out, the years of suffering and hard work were worth it, as their photos and mini-films deliver some shockingly powerful images of the globe's ice in rapid decay. The formations look gorgeous, and they're breathtakingly massive, but they're also quietly dying, either by melting away or calving off into the ocean. "Chasing Ice" saves the time-lapse vignettes for the last act of the film, but when they show them, it's amazing and horrifying to see how much has been lost and how fast.
Balog and Orlowski know that the graphs and speculation tactic has already been seen, and worse yet, it can be ignored easily. It's surprisingly easy to be dubious of numbers. As a result, the movie only uses one or two charts and instead puts its energy toward finding visual proof that can't be pushed aside.
I've seen graphs before; what I haven't seen is a glacier chunk the size of several football fields sliding off into the ocean with monumental force. I haven't witnessed a glacier disappear right before my eyes. The evidence in "Chasing Ice" evidence may not be quite as timely as other environmental docs before it (climate change is no longer the sexy cause of the moment it once was), but it's certainly there, and it's eye-catching.
Interwoven with the melting glaciers and Arctic explorations are little glimpses into Balog's personal life. The audience meets his supportive wife Suzanne, hears about his struggles and watches as his knee slowly hinders his work in the field. "Chasing Ice" comes just short of calling Balog a martyr for his cause.
Humanizing as it may be, though, anytime Orlowski steps away from the ice or the project feels unnecessary (much like Gore's personal asides in "An Inconvenient Truth"). When it gets back to nature, the film comes back alive and delivers a case more convincing than anything a glorified PowerPoint presentation could.
But back to our original question: Haven't we seen "Chasing Ice" before? Yes, we have, but the sad part is that we still need its message. We still haven't changed.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published Oct. 22, 2014
For many in America, ramen is almost exclusively college dorm food, something quick and easy to make when the times are desperate and the money (or perhaps just the initiative) is low. Recently, however, ramen's reputation has begun to lose its college res hall stink in American culture.
Published Oct. 22, 2014
As the rare tank-based WWII action movie, Ayer's latest decently satisfies. When "Fury" tries to be anything more, however, the story's treading gets gummed up, and the effective machine loses steam.
Published Oct. 21, 2014
In early 2012, music fans found themselves entranced by two hypnotically romantic pop songs cryptically released onto YouTube. The songs were gorgeous, a dreamy high voice with just a touch of smokiness crooning intimate lyrics over seductively simple electronic arrangements. Everyone just wanted to know who was responsible. It was an impressive little indie music mystery ... especially since it was essentially an accident.
Published Oct. 20, 2014
In 2012, comedian Tig Notaro went through a series of intense, significant personal crises that would be overwhelming in a four-year stretch, much less in merely four months. In a matter of a few months, Notaro faced a break-up, a sudden death in the family and two potentially fatal ailments. And in the middle of all of that, she had a stand-up gig at Largo in Los Angeles. The rest, as the cliché says, is history.
Published Oct. 16, 2014
A little over a decade ago, Milwaukee musician and Testa Rosa lead vocalist Betty Blexrud-Strigens got a chance to see the legendary Patti Smith in Madison. Even though the show came quite some time after Smith's punk glory years, Blexrud-Strigens still remembers the rock legend providing a charge. Now, it's up to Blexrud-Strigens and a roster of Milwaukee artists and musicians to bring that essence back to the stage with "Smith Uncovered."
Published Oct. 15, 2014
After three years, The Rural Alberta Advantage is taking a new album on the road, including a return stop at Turner Hall Ballroom on Wednesday, Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. Before then, however, OnMilwaukee.com chatted with the band's drummer Paul Banwatt about the process behind "Mended with Gold," looking back at the band's past and spending some time in a creepy Canadian cabin. And, of course, hockey.
Published Oct. 14, 2014
Judged as awards bait, "Kill the Messenger" won't likely snag the golden glory it's looking for. Once you remove the arbitrary frame of awards season, "Kill the Messenger" is a solid, satisfyingly unpredictable and well performed journalism drama that - following the lead of "Shattered Glass" and, of course, "All the President's Men" - often plays like a tense thriller.
Published Oct. 13, 2014
At the end of the month, the Milwaukee Public Museum will celebrate the fall - as well as its current "Alien Worlds and Androids" exhibit - with a Sci-Fi Film Fest. Every Thursday and Saturday (save for Thanksgiving) from Oct. 23 through Nov. 29, the museum will screen a sci-fi flick in the Dome Theater.
Published Oct. 12, 2014
How does one stretch a barely 30-page short story of accumulated gripes and grumbles into a feature length film? In the case of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," the answer is simple: poorly. By the time its 82-minute running time comes to a grateful close - and all of the cliché, contrived and crude chaos with it - Alexander's bad day has morphed into the audience's bad day.
Published Oct. 10, 2014
Few bands have come out of the gates as strongly as Milwaukee's own Field Report. So it's safe to say the bar was set high for Field Report's eventual sophomore attempt, one nicely cleared by "Marigolden," released Tuesday, Oct. 7.