Cleverly assembled to tell a complex true story from a hugely engaging perspective, this documentary can't help but spark a sense of righteous rage in the audience. The film outlines a series of deeply unjust events involving a group of true believers who had their finest achievement stolen from them by greedy neighbours and meddling politicians. Honestly, who knew palaeontology was such a cut-throat business?
It was the summer of 1990 in the Badlands of South Dakota when palaeontologist Susan Hendrickson discovered the fossilised remains of a T-rex, the thirteenth discovered and by far the most complete. None of the previous 12 were more than 40 percent complete, while this one, nicknamed "Sue", is about 80 percent. With her colleagues Peter and Neal Larson and Terry Wentz, Susan purchased the rights to Sue for a record $5,000 from the landowner, then the team spend a year getting the fossil ready to exhibit at their local museum. But before they finished, the FBI raided their lab and confiscated Sue, and seven years of legal arguments followed. Even worse, the prosecutors drummed up unnecessary criminal charges against the palaeontologists.
Clearly all of this is about money. When Sue was ultimately auctioned off, she brought $7.6 million to the cash-grabbing landowners and their lawyers. Meanwhile, the ragtag fossil-hunters had their lives completely derailed by legal action and even jail time. Director Todd Douglas Miller lets these people tell their story with quite a lot of detail, unveiling the plot chronologically through stills and home movies, plus some gorgeously shot new footage and re-enactments. Through it all, it's clear that these palaeontologists were excavating for the love of it, and for the benefit of their small-town community. In fact, Peter felt so strongly about Sue that he kept watch over the container she was stored in for all those years, even talking to it.
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Even though this documentary is packed with some of the most spectacular scenes you've ever seen on film, it's also rather depressing. Not only do these magnificent images reveal the truth about global warming, but they tell us that we're too late to stop the rising sea levels. But it's not all doom and gloom, as there are still ways humanity can survive the coming changes.
Scientist James Balog runs a global project studying the sizes of glaciers, and with his video monitoring systems he can see that they are shrinking at a hugely accelerated rate. By analysing the ice he can see that the melting grew exponentially during the industrial revolution, when we started burning fossil fuels. And he also notes that we are now past the tipping point: no matter what we do, the glaciers will melt and the seas will rise, drastically changing the planet. In other words, anyone who says that humans didn't cause global warming is lying to you.
While centring on the likeable Balog and his energetic team, the film takes us with them to Iceland, Greenland and Alaska, letting us watch their staggeringly beautiful time-lapse sequences of ice melting. In one case, a shelf collapses that's the size of Lower Manhattan. Not only is this kind of scene picturesque and dramatic, but the scale of the event helps us understand what's actually going on out there, despite deliberately misleading information from global news sources (Fox News is the most pernicious offender in this sense).
Continue reading: Chasing Ice Review