The biggest obstacle to getting people to understand catastrophic climate change is the fact that the changes made by global warming are often difficult to convey in a visual, visceral way. And ours is a visual, visceral culture. Even Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which did so much to bring the problem to the public’s attention, had trouble making the issue feel immediate. Chasing Ice has conquered that problem, and as a result is one of the most potent pieces of cinematic agitprop in recent memory.

The documentary is actually all about overcoming the global warming argument barrier. It follows the efforts of James Balog, a nature and wildlife photographer who wants to get the word out, but is unsure how to. His solution is the Extreme Ice Survey, the largest photographic study of glaciers ever taken. The film follows Balog and his team as they place cameras at glaciers all over the world. Over the course of a few years, the cameras take a photo every daylight hour, forming time-lapse portraits of what happens to the glaciers over time. The results are stunning – in the space of those few years alone, all the glaciers shrank dramatically. The melting of these icy behemoths is the most obvious sign of the climate heating up that we have. These images give an urgent warning to the world. How many will heed this warning is up in the air. Si

Since the film is all about changing minds through visual immediacy rather than academic dryness, it keeps the statistics and science to a minimum, telling the audience only what they need to know to understand what is happening. The film assumes that the cultural debate about global warming has already educated you about the basics, and isn’t interested in countering any of the tired arguments that deniers of climate change have used. At less than eighty minutes in length, it swoops in, delivers its message, and ends without a fuss. There’s no fat on this thing.

Sandwiched with the story about melting glaciers and the struggle to document them, though, is the story about a man fighting his own degrading body. Balog, whose knees keep getting worse throughout the Extreme Ice Survey’s expeditions, has made it his life’s work to get these photographs. A former climate skeptic, he now works through his age to keep getting the shots he wants. There’s a curious parallel between Balog and the glaciers that he’s photographing, which lends the doc an extra bit of poignancy.

But the true star of this movie is the camera. Chasing Ice features some of the most stunning nature footage ever shot. Not just out of any movie this year, or out of documentaries in general, I mean out of anything, ever. The team snaps breathtakingly gorgeous photos of misshapen ice floes, caverns, ocean sprays, and ridges grooved with melt lines. All trail camera reviews now have a new standard. The crowning moment is a sequence in which they shoot a glacier as a huge piece of it calves off. A titanic mass of ice the size of lower Manhattan collapses into the sea. Skyscraper-sized chunks upend and buckle in a seismic dance that’s almost too large to comprehend. I certainly have trouble finding the proper words to describe it now. It’s immense, biblical, one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a theater this year.

Chasing Ice is gorgeous and terrifying. It’s the loudest cry for change in our attitude towards global warming yet, and I still doubt it will be enough. But I would urge people to see this movie, and in a theater, if for no other reason than to experience the amazing imagery on a big screen.