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Case Number 26459: Small Claims Court

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Chasing Ice

Cinedigm // 2012 // 75 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 24th, 2013

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart has an ice tray in his refrigerator.

The Charge

"The story is in the ice—somehow."

The Case

Photographer James Balog spends his life Chasing Ice. He's a major part of the Extreme Ice Survey, which does time-lapse photography as glaciers disappear.

The documentary opens with a barrage of news clips from various wildfires and floods, with snippets from right-wing commentators thrown in. It then switches gears, showing the beauty of the ice as Balog works in Iceland. His mission there is to record the melting of Solheim Glacier, which is leaving a river in its wake. Director Jeff Orlowski keeps the gears switching in much the same fashion throughout the movie.

In Chasing Ice, Balog says he went on his photographic quest because people are tired of statistics and alarmism about climate change. Orlowski and others involved in Chasing Ice say the same thing in the making-of featurette on the DVD. Trouble is, they still can't resist throwing a lot of talking heads in.

From comments in the extras, it sounds like the movie got more heavy handed after its original cut, which is a shame. Chasing Ice gets preachy, but its subject, James Balog, is undeniably interesting as he risks his knees—his doctors didn't want him going out there climbing on icy terrain—to get photos of the shrinking glaciers. I suspect less-is-more would've been a more effective tactic in winning over viewers.

That said, the movie is beautiful when it's actually following Balog on his mission. Its cinematography was rightly honored at Sundance. There's something dramatic about just seeing the glaciers calving and receding—or, for that matter, just seeing the glaciers. Balog expresses his thoughts about photography and his mission in a way that's compelling. In a Q&A, Orlowski talks about the sound mixing he did to get the calving sound just right. Again, this seems like a backfiring overkill; the natural sound of a calving likely would have been dramatic enough.

The extras include a film festival Q&A, a making-of, a science talk with glaciologist Tad Pfeffer of the University of Colorado, and a theatrical trailer.

Pfeffer mentions the search for solutions in his talk. I wondered if anyone's working on controlling the water from the melting glaciers, steering for a man-made lake instead of a water flow that could endanger human or wildlife populations. If so, I'd have wanted to hear it at least mentioned.

The PG-13 rating apparently is for some profanity that didn't register when I watched the movie.

Even as Chasing Ice unfolds on the screen, people in the film tell us we'll be arguing about climate change for centuries. A film that concentrated on Balog and the images he captures might have been more to the point.

If Chasing Ice intrigues you, it's available from Amazon Instant Video.

The Verdict

Guilty of ignoring its subject's advice.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile

Studio: Cinedigm
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
• Documentary
• Science and Nature

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes
• Trailer


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