Judge William Lee lives to tell of his journey from the couch to the freezer and back again.
Our review of Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul, published March 21st, 2013, is also available.
Two men. One mission. The toughest expedition on earth.
Award-winning photographer, author, filmmaker, outdoor adventurer and environmental advocate Sebastian Copeland believes people won't save something unless they love it. He wants you to love the polar ice caps. In 2009, Copeland and his partner Keith Heger, another experienced polar adventurer, traveled on foot to the North Pole to commemorate the centennial of Admiral Robert Peary's expedition. It is such an extreme test of human endurance that since Peary's arrival at the geographic top of the world in 1909, fewer than 150 people have made the overland trek. If the climate change trend continues, by 2020 it will be impossible for anyone to stand at the surface of the North Pole.
Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul chronicles Copeland's preparation for and execution of his trek, which was his childhood dream. Copeland is his own subject and cameraman so the film plays more like a very polished video diary than a fully produced documentary or reality show. That's a good thing, since Copeland's filmmaking skills are quite good and his personal reflections on the adventure mirror the psychological challenge of the lengthy isolation he experienced on the expedition.
Duluth, Minnesota is the first stop for Copeland and Heger where winter conditions approximate the Arctic climate. At a training camp designed to make participants think twice about their readiness for extreme cold, they take part in exercises like jumping into frozen lakes and enduring temperatures of minus 50 degrees Fahrenheit. After a brief return to his home in Los Angeles, Copeland heads to Resolute Bay, Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. It is here that we see the nitty-gritty of their preparations for the real thing. Heger is clearly the right companion for an exhausting journey in inhospitable conditions. He is strong, always smiling and strictly precise about their supplies. The pair spend days organizing their food rations, weighing 2.4 pounds amounting to 7,000 Calories for each person each day. Both Copeland and Heger will be pulling 200-pound sledges packed with their gear and food.
The second half of the film details their journey northward across an unending frozen landscape. Even when the scenery is awesome, it looks like the adventurers are struggling. The going is slow most of the time, as they have to negotiate countless fields of icy rubble formed from the breaking and colliding of the frozen surface. Another stark reminder that they are walking over the Arctic Ocean is when they must traverse "leads" between the edges of ice, being careful not to fall into the icy waters. Copeland concedes it's impossible to capture the powerful nature of their surroundings on camera. Certainly, there are instances when viewers will appreciate the stark beauty of a shot but, in general, the appearance of their environment is a lot of the same. Furthermore, witnessing the determination of these men trying to make it through another day in the Arctic desert is sometimes more compelling than taking in the scenery. There is one moment when they pause to listen as one edge of the ice pushes against another, slowly creating more rubble right in front of their eyes. The eerie creaking and cracking is something to behold and really gives you a sense of the immense forces at work beneath the pair's feet.
Copeland's narration contains the eloquence and depth of an author. He shares enough detail about the logistics of mounting his expedition without it becoming a laundry list. His personal observations help make the trek a personal journey even when his reading of the script can sometimes sound cold and monotonous. Copeland wants to raise the alarm on climate change and he occasionally references this trend when he talks about his surroundings. This element of the film is most effective when he talks about the record high temperatures when he previously visited the region and when he mentions the effect on the native inhabitants' way of life. However, these examples share a very small part of the film's running time and when Copeland is way out on the ice, despite his urging, his concern about global warming will seem less immediate to viewers. I can't imagine many people will be inspired to mount their own trek to the North Pole after seeing this film. Still, the record of this journey is worth seeing for anyone interested in real life adventure tales or an appreciation of the harsh Arctic landscape. Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul didn't make me love the Arctic but I definitely respect it.
Photography enthusiasts will be interested in knowing that this film was shot entirely using the Canon 5D Mark II camera, the popular SLR-style camera with HD video capabilities. The picture quality holds its own against any documentary or television show using professional cameras. The biggest problem with the cinematography is the times when footage is captured handheld as the shakiness makes for uncomfortable viewing. Whenever the camera is stationary or guided with a steady hand the image is very pleasing. Lines are smooth, finer details are rendered fairly well and colors are strong. For the many scenes when the frame is filled with white, the varying features of the snowy landscape are defined as well as you can imagine. The scenes inside the men's red tent show a small amount of color banding in the tent fabric. I'm not sure if this is a technical shortcoming of the camera or a video compression issue but it's a tough job for any camera to capture a clear image in such a setting. Despite the promise of a surround mix on the DVD packaging, the stereo audio on this disc is more than adequate. Narration is clear and the minimal use of music and environmental sound effects are blended well.
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