This weekend I had the opportunity to watch Chasing Ice, a new documentary that follows the work of the Extreme Ice Survey. The EIS was founded by noted photographer James Balog in 2007 with the goal of investigating climate change through the automated photography of glaciers in a variety of polar sites.
As a feature film, I think the movie is actually a bit thin. Running 75 minutes, only the final act of the film is really concerned with showing us the payoff–Balog’s pictures and video that clearly illustrate the retreat of glaciers worldwide. These pictures are no doubt striking… but after paying $8 to see the film in theaters I kind of wanted to see them all, not just the few glaciers that are profiled. Call me greedy, but the photos are really where it’s at here.
Aside from the glaciers, Balog and his team also produced amazing photos of meltwater pooling on glaciers, Swiss-cheese holes boring into the glacier as a result of collected pools of dust and soot, and almost otherworldly ice-scapes that may never be seen again. Frankly, a 75-minute slideshow of these amazing photographs with commentary would have made me a happy camper, but given the film’s length I felt it went a little overboard by focusing on Balog himself as a human interest story. I don’t want to sell him short at all because Balog’s project is ambitious and remarkable… but more than anything he came off to me like a perfectionist who places himself and his assistants in some really dangerous situations. A visionary, but maybe not the kind of person you’d want to have for a boss.
In all Chasing Ice is worth watching, but probably not in theaters. The film was produced in part by National Geographic and I imagine it will air on their cable channel in the future. Otherwise, get it on DVD and watch it on the best-quality TV you can find.