Twelve years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio teamed up with Leila Conners to blast an environmental wake-up call to the world with “The 11th Hour,” warning of the dire consequences of unchecked climate change. More than a decade later, the political leaders most able to do something continue to ignore the issue, but while the cataclysmic effects of global warming become ever clearer, scientists and significant swathes of the public are trying to make a difference. That’s the focus of “Ice on Fire,” a deeply conventional though attractive documentary designed to reinforce just how bad things are getting while offering hope by concentrating on realistic proposals that can reign in climate change and even reverse its effects. Premiering at Cannes in advance of its June 11 launch on HBO, the film will likely garner a decent viewership via the network’s streaming platforms.
Where “The 11th Hour” sought to frighten audiences into action by showing the consequences of doing nothing, “Ice on Fire” takes a different tack, relying heavily on predictably beautiful drone shots of pristine landscapes to remind us what we have to lose, interspersed with scientists and activists talking about what can be done to preserve our planet. Occasionally DiCaprio’s voice is heard reinforcing points in the manner of a sententious schoolmaster lecturing children, but fortunately these interjections are sporadic, notwithstanding the obvious importance of a Leonardine presence to boost interest. Overall the documentary is rather too predictably structured, raising the alarm, then offering a solution, and then repeating the formula, though Conners and the producers make the correct calculation that dire warnings without a corrective course of action lead to hopelessness rather than vital social and political engagement.
Naturally the movie is aware of climate change deniers with their disturbing agendas, and while the filmmakers avoid too much anti-Trumpian commentary, their privileging of science, via “impartial experts” freezes out any misguided uncertainty. From the Rocky Mountains to the Arctic ice sheets, from the Costa Rican rainforests to the windswept Orkney Islands, the emphasis is first on data collection, baldly presenting the facts of carbon and methane accumulation in the environment and their mind-boggling toxicity. The solution is a two-pronged approach, consisting of switching to renewable energy combined with “drawdown,” the act of pulling carbon out of the environment.
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Scientists and entrepreneurs discuss wind turbines, solar farms and tidal energy while others explain the process of carbon sequestration and its potential for creating far more jobs than the fossil fuel industry, including urban farming as well as the heightened cultivation of “restorative species” like oysters and especially seaweed and kelp. Time after time, experts talk of achievable goals, emphasizing that capitalism is not anathema to environmental action since going green will be ever more profitable. There’s only one massive problem for which the documentary doesn’t suggest a comprehensive solution, and that’s stored methane, acknowledged as posing an even more drastic risk of accelerated climate disruption. But the implication is that the cascading benefits of all these methods will do the trick if we act now: “Is it game over or game on?” queries DiCaprio in one of the more simplistic lines.
“Ice on Fire” looks exactly as expected, full of grandiose drone shots of some of the globe’s most vulnerable spots — DP (and co-producer) Harun Mehmedinovic previously worked on “BBC Earth” and was clearly influenced by the groundbreaking series. Though operating with an eye for large-scale images, the producers were surely cognizant that most audiences are accustomed to watching this sort of footage on home screens of varying sizes.