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Originally published Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 3:03 PM

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'Chasing Ice' is surprisingly thrilling, and disturbing, too

"Chasing Ice," a documentary directed by Jeff Orlowski, follows the fascinating and disturbing climate-change research of photographer James Balog's Extreme Ice Project, which tracks the inexorable melting of glaciers in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Chasing Ice,' a documentary directed by Jeff Orlowski. 75 minutes. Not rated. Egyptian.

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Watching a glacier can be like watching paint dry — there's a reason the phrase "glacial speed" exists — until something happens. And it happens, repeatedly, in Jeff Orlowski's fascinating documentary "Chasing Ice." We watch two researchers, cold and bored after long hours manning cameras in Iceland, suddenly animated as a huge crack forms in a glacier; it splits off and, like a vast ship, majestically floats away under the icy waters.

"Chasing Ice," a winner at numerous film festivals, documents the Extreme Ice Project, founded by acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog. Several years ago, he set out with a small crew to place cameras in various locations in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana, to document definitely whether the glaciers were receding. They are, and alarmingly so. The photography is often beautiful (the blue glaciers sparkle in the sun like massive sapphires), but it's disturbing — and sure to convince any climate-change doubters. In time-lapse photography, glaciers slip away before our eyes, becoming, in Balog's words, "like an old, decrepit man, falling back into the earth and dying."

Though the film is primarily dedicated to showcasing Balog's remarkable work, it's also a moving portrait of a man determined to follow his quest — and to educate the world's citizens about climate change — against all odds. Balog, who has photographs of his daughters taped to the laptop he carries onto the ice, presses on despite several knee difficulties (he's had multiple surgeries) and physical discomfort — determined to one day tell his girls, he says, that he did everything he could. More than 30 of his cameras are still running today, documenting a slow, inexorable truth.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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