Chasing ice-hard truth

"Chasing Ice," is a movie about global warming, and much more. Think: archeologist Indiana Jones as photographer, a team without substitute stuntmen, sans computer graphic sleights of hand, juxtaposed against the sheer scale, scope and power of grandiose natural events.

That is "Chasing Ice," an adventurer’s documentary crafted with love as a gift for an ailing mother in need of special care and attention. It would be a horror film, but the horrific is too beautiful, as what is revealed is an arduous quest for hard truth rendered gorgeously pictorial even as it will haunt the dreams of thoughtful children and adults alike.

Showing in San Diego at the Ken Cinema on Adams, "Chasing Ice" rewards an open mind; set aside your expectations before you see it, as it will otherwise surely defeat them, and see it where you will be properly shaken by Mother Earth’s rumbling bass notes as she disintegrates before you.

Fundamentally four interwoven stories, three personal and intimate, and a fourth utterly raw and aloof, "Chasing Ice" delicately puts a face on each. One face is frail and human, and the other utterly majestic, dispassionate, dangerous, relentless and stark.

The subtle and wonderful build, interweave and juxtaposition of personal adventure, struggle, failure, challenge and triumph, alongside the much larger, impersonal and harsh struggle we are collectively facing as a species and planet, is really quite masterful.

At its best, it reveals the peculiar insanity of informed dreamers who abandon ordinary life and family in favor of a quest for truth, forsaking safety in an utterly hostile world to risk their lives to tell a story in unimagined images to the fear centers of our mind.

It’s an adventure film in which a driven, non-superhero protagonist, James Balog, has real and prosaic knee problems which logistically interfere with his emotional and intellectual best-laid plans to retrieve a time-lapse talisman which will wake a sleeping society, where technology brings both tears and joy, where the awesome power of gravity is exposed.

It’s also a remarkably subtle study in spousal patience, love and faith which mirrors all truly good romantic stories. We are commanded to understand as wife, Suzanne Balog, and daughters Simone and Emily, are asked to allow their husband and father to wander, as part of his Extreme Ice Survey, into a hostile world as equally likely to kill as to reward or enrich. The film challenges the conventional tension between attending domestic parental commitments and risking all for the family’s long-term enduring benefit. Indeed, this is among the triage choices we all must make.

And within its overarching framework is the implicit tale of director and producer Jeff Orlowski’s desire to tell a story which moves us emotionally as it exposes us to a singular, awful truth about the relentless and overwhelming power of global warming. Adventurer, film maker, and risk taker, young Orlowski is central to "Chasing Ice," yet nearly invisible.

Filmmaking ultimately rests upon the efforts of large groups of individuals, and modern film credits naming the worthy have reached proportions reminiscent of Genesis, chapters 4 and 5.

That said, the cooperative effort of the four core people who crafted this film, all of whom are exceptionally skilled in their own way, is a story all its own. There can be no doubt that we owe a great deal to artists such as James Balog, Jeff Orlowski, producer Jerry Aronson, producer Paula DuPre Pesmen, and the many others caused by an amalgam of fates to work on and contribute to this film, for bringing forth a moving saga filled with genuine humanity.

Composer J. Ralph's soundtrack is extraordinarily effective, swaying the audience without pushing them.

As a teaching tool, it reminds one of the 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapse which revealed an otherwise under-appreciated power of simple wind-driven harmonics. That revelation is now played out repeatedly before young engineering students in the "Gallopin' Gertie" film snippet as an example of what to avoid. More importantly, engineers are made to understand the power of phenomenon which would rarely be seen in ordinary life. The gigantic glacier calving events shown in "Chasing Ice" impart a similar lesson, asking us all to reimagine the scale and ferocity of what the additional energy associated with global warming brings with it.

The deep bass notes heard in a theatre sound system bring an element of scale and grandeur, and reaffirm a raw appreciation for simple gravity, which cannot normally be viscerally understood, as the forces of gravity and energy accumulation combine to weaken and tear apart in an hour massive structures which have lasted tens of thousands of years.

This film does not pound the table, nor is there a heavy emphasis on the science of global warming per se. Like all things indirectly experiential, it is akin to a Rorschach test where the audience brings their preexisting knowledge to bear in order to focus on and explain the actual natural events they are hearing and seeing before them. Those who believe the least are likely to be changed the most.

"Chasing Ice" is a gift to us all.

Coffey is an attorney based in San Diego. He can be reached at Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

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