"Koyaanisqatsi" is one of the more unusual films to be made in the past twenty years. The film does not have a conventional plot - instead, the film presents images of man and nature, one right after another, for 87 minutes, complete with Philip Glass score in the background. While various images thrown together to send a message could have been clumsy in lesser hands, "Koyaanisqatsi" director Godfrey Reggio does manage to engage the eye and the senses, starting off with images of nature, then switching to images of man destroying nature, then images of people rushing in the midst of chaotic cityscapes.
"Koyaanisqatsi" is beautiful, "Koyaanisqatsi" is thought-provoking, but "Koyaanisqatsi" is not exactly subtle. The message is clear from the opening; we are destroying our planet, while the cities that we've created take away from our individuality; we're driftwood lost in an ocean. Technology is not only at our fingertips, it's a part of every moment of our lives.
Still, while the message is presented in a rather obvious fashion, it's certainly still very worthy of the viewer's interest and is captured in stunning fashion here. Director Reggio and cinematographer Ron Fricke provide city photography that's truly breathtaking at times, capturing the people on the street and buildings in a certain fashion (occasionally using editing tricks and time-lapse photography) to deliver their message through the visuals. Although I'm not a fan of Philip Glass's work, his minimalist score here provides fine accompaniment to the imagery.
Small concerns aside, this is still an excellent film that manages to tie its images together in a way that's powerful, creative and occasionally fascinating. As the cover art notes, the title actually is a Hopi Indian word for "life out of balance."
VIDEO: "Koyaanisqatsi" is presented by MGM in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The new transfer is defnitely an impressive effort from the studio, as although the film is nearly twenty years of age, it still manages to mostly appear fresh and clean. As for sharpness and detail, some sequences in the film seemed to have an intentionally soft appearance, but for the most part, the film looked pleasantly crisp and well-defined.
The few problems that did occur during the presentation were mainly related to the age of the film. Although I was largely very pleased with the condition of the print, there were still a few little specks and the occasional mark, not to mention some hints of grain. Edge enhancement was not seen throughout the presentation, nor were any instances of pixelation or other artifacts. The film's few foggy/smoky scenes are handled quite perfectly by the transfer.
Unlike the similar film "Baraka" (which was directed by this film's cinematographer, Ron Fricke), "Koyaanisqatsi" has a fairly muted color palette; while occasional brighter colors appear, colors usually look earthy and natural. Overall, a very nice transfer - a bit above my expectations.
SOUND: "MGM" presents "Koyaanisqatsi" in remixed Dolby Digital 5.1. The main audio element present in the film is the score by Philip Glass (while Glass's score was remixed in 5.1 for a DVD-Audio release, I don't think this is the same mix), which is distributed nicely around the listening space.
MENUS: Basic, non-animated main and sub-menus.
EXTRAS: Although a commentary track would have been appreciated, there are still a few supplements on this release. The main extra is "Essence Of Life", which is a 25-minute documentary that mainly features interviews with director Reggio and composer Philip Glass. Reggio talks about his experiences during filming and provides enjoyable insight and analysis of the film, commenting that the experience of the film will be different things to different people (which I think is part of its appeal). Rounding out the supplemental section are trailers for "Naqoyqatsi" (which looks pretty grim), "Powaqqatsi" and "Koyaanisqatsi".
Final Thoughts: A visually dazzling film that only occasionally overdoes its message, "Koyaanisqatsi" is certainly an interesting experience that should be seen by anyone who has not yet had a chance to view it. MGM's new DVD edition provides a very nice looking new transfer and fine remastered soundtrack, but little in the way of supplements. This DVD is also available in a 2-pack with its "sequel", "Powaqqatsi". I'd also highly recommend "Baraka", a similar film that is also currently available on DVD.
The Film *** 1/2