James Balog is a photographer, not a climate scientist. He used to think that global warming was a myth propelled by hyperbole; then he realized that the world's glaciers are in full retreat, and it's not merely a seasonal change. The melting of the glaciers is happening so swiftly that in order to comprehend it -- and demonstrate it to those still clinging to their disbelief -- Balog set up the Extreme Ice Survey, a global (in the Northern hemisphere, at least) initiative to monitor and record the recession of glaciers in Iceland, Montana, and Alaska.
The result is a stunning display that puts the evidence of climate change right before your eyes. The fiction that "the science is not settled" will melt right out of your mind as the unsettling truth of the matter sinks in: As Balog points out, the world's glaciers are the massive, icy "canaries" in the global climate "coal mine," and their rapid, massive melting is an early indication of severe climate-related problems to come.
As human industry pumps more and more carbon into the atmosphere, solar radiation hitting the Earth's surface diffuses less and less; the more energy from the sun we trap in the atmosphere, the more we destabilize atmospheric and oceanic currents, the higher the seas climb, and the more drastic and severe storms and flooding will become. Everything from low-lying real estate to the agriculture to mass extinctions and the prospective collapse of the food chain loom in our future. It's a lot to take in, but the situation is now beyond the realm of theory: Already, costs from severe weather have run into the billions, and that's just here in the United States.
"Chasing Ice" may send a shiver down your spine, especially as you witness enormous glaciers splitting, rolling over, and collapsing (in one arresting sequence, an ice field the size of downtown Manhattan splinters) but this documentary may have a silver lining: Balog's cameras capture Nature, in all its wild beauty. Never has ice looked so formidable, or so beautiful, and Balog's images are preserved on the Blu-ray release with sublime crystal clarity.
The music is also a plus -- rather than a heavy, sonorous score that drones with musical themes of tension and apprehension, "Chasing Ice" is graced with a jazzy, even smoky, score that lends atmosphere to the film, but declines to suffocate you in heavy-handed themes or, worse, cheesy synth. (The main title song, J. Ralph's Oscar-nominated "Before My Time," is performed by Joshua Bell and Scarlett Johansson in a music video, included as an extra, featuring footage from the movie.)
This disc offers several special features, including a Making Of featurette, footage of film festival Q&A sessions, and an "update" on the science in which various points of the climate change debate are addressed (and some pernicious myths debunked). The extra "Glacier Watching" provides more footage of gigantic hunks of ice breaking apart; the "Time Now" feature is a slide show that offers more of Balog's breathtaking photography. There are also "Testimonials," a featurette on "Making the Time Lapses," and one on the "Sundance Experience."
But the film is the thing here; at just under 80 minutes, this documentary won't waste your time. Indeed, you come away with a feeling that there's simply no time to waste: We either wake up right now or we enter a nightmare of our own devising, made so much worse by our stubborn insistence on denial.
If you want to stay informed about the most critical issues of our age, you'll want to buy a copy of this movie (the environmentally-minded will no doubt be sure to offset the carbon footprint of this Blu-ray disc). If you want to help dispel the myth that climate change is a "hoax," you may want to buy several copies.