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Chasing Coral, directed by Jeff Orlowski is a solid documentary that tackles the dangers of climate change in an accessible and emotionally resonant way, even if it sometimes loses track of what it’s trying to achieve.
Orlowski’s goal is to use his marketing experience to effectively communicate to a mass audience how great the risk to coral reefs all over the world is and why they must be protected. To that end, Chasing Coral is largely successful. Visually, it captures the stunning beauty and sheer variety of corals while also featuring experts that provide fascinating bits of information.
The movie makes a compelling case for why something needs to be done and explains how corals are a vital part of the ocean’s ecosystem that is in real danger of becoming extinct in the near future. The information is presented well – there’s enough of it to make the movie a worthwhile, engaging learning experience, but not so much that the viewer might feel confused or overwhelmed.
Chasing Coral’s emotional linchpin is Zackery Rago, a member of the team that Orlowski puts together in an effort to create an underwater time-lapse of corals dying. Rago is deeply passionate about corals and his experience with recording their slow death because of climate change devastates him. His heartbreak anchors the movie emotionally in a big way.
One of Chasing Coral’s more noticeable problems is that it ends up devoting a little too much time on the team trying to make the time-lapse work. While their trial-and-error process is certainly interesting in its own right and adds a degree of immediate urgency to what are otherwise global concerns, it’s a far bigger part of the movie than it should be.
There are a few stretches where the movie focuses primarily on the crew’s efforts, whether it’s them making a special underwater time-lapse camera or trying to predict where the next major coral “bleaching” event will take place. It’s interesting up to a point, but it drags on long enough to start feeling like a distraction.
Fortunately, by the end Chasing Coral gets back on track, focusing on the coral reefs and the danger they’re in, while also clearly outlining ways in which people can help. While the overall message is simply to fight against climate change in general, Chasing Coral also shows specific ways in which people can contribute to the cause – by documenting bleaching events on their own.
The ending, which features thousands of people from all over the world reporting incidents near them works both as an uplifting testament to our commitment and a firm reminder of the sweeping scale of the problem. Overall, despite a few shortcomings, Chasing Coral is an effective, visually striking documentary.