Godfrey Reggio’s The Qatsi Trilogy presents his three films as philosophical mood pieces on the notion that modern man neither honors nor appreciates Mother Earth, that he’s rather a user and abuser of what nature has to offer without ever appreciating nature’s bounty or the necessity to cherish it and that in his rush to embrace technology at the expense of the natural order, he is sealing his doom. Made between 1983 and 2002, the three films vary wildly in interest with the first by far being the best and the other two existing more as afterthoughts and repetitions on a theme without quite the freshness and hypnotic pull of the first.
The Qatsi Trilogy (Blu-ray)
Directed by Godfrey Reggio
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1/1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 86/99/89 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
MSRP: $ 79.95
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Review Date: December 12, 2012
Koyaanisqatsi – 4/5
Powaqqatsi – 2/5
Naqoyqatsi – 3/5
Koyaanisqatsi meaning “Life out of balance” spends its opening few minutes showing us the marvels and majesties of the natural world (focusing on the Grand Canyon area as well as oceans, waterfalls, banks of clouds, and fields of flowers) before concentrating on humanity’s ruthlessly forward push toward civilization, industrialization, and domestication of the planet. The images are startling throughout highlighted by the unique (at the time) time lapse look at traffic streams on freeways and in and around cities. Though director Godfrey Reggio insists that his trilogy of films is open to interpretation, one would have to be pretty thick-headed not to see the satirical swipes made at madly dashing urban-dwellers frantic to get where they’re going: seas of people pushing forward, forward, forward in an endless parade of advancing humanity with their huge power plants, oil refineries, jets and space ships, assembly lines putting together everything from television sets and cars to packaging hot dogs and Twinkies for public consumption.
Powaqqatsi focuses its attention on civilizations of the southern hemisphere from Brazil to China with stops in India and Africa. The first forty-six minutes investigate the culure of a Brazilian Indian tribe as they carry on their daily lives in ways that likely haven’t altered much over the centuries as they beat their clothes clean and grind corn, haul dirt, pray, and have street carnivals in traditionally familiar ways. As we travel to other parts of the globe, technology has made the work and play sometimes more automated and other times not dissimilar to the old ways of doing things. All of these comparisons and contrasts are presented in rather humdrum fashion using director Godfrey Reggio’s patented reliance on slow motion to give poetry to movement and double exposure to add complexity to otherwise mundane images. There’s one graceful segue from a sea of grass to a real-life sea which is a breathtaking transition of natural images, but it’s the only unclichéd shot in the whole movie. Everything and everyone else (a tiresome sea of faces staring at the camera in almost a showdown to see who blinks first; a dull video montage of television from around the world) is unremarkable.
Naqoyqatsi looks at the innumerable ways human life battles with itself whether it be in athletics, politics, finances, or actual warfare as technology becomes the real king of the world offering the possibility of power and achievement for those who can master it. To illustrate its insanity, director Godfrey Reggio and creative art consultant and visual designer Jon Kane have manipulated mostly stock footage in innumerable ways, not just the slow motion and time lapse motifs of the earlier films but by burnishing, printing positives as negatives, and multiple exposures and have also added bridging sequences with new footage and computer animation to drive their points home. Images are generally stretched out of natural appearance as well further symbolizing a world completely skewed. Once again, there are some lyrical transitions between images going from mountains into clouds or oceans to computer keyboards, and near the end an arresting series of images that melt into one another. There is also a quite telling sequence about halfway through the movie where we see a succession of images of famous faces and events of the 20th century not especially in chronological order but arranged for building emotional impact.
Koyaanisqatsi – 4/5
The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film’s first half is softer than the second half which at its best can look strikingly sharp and with excellent and natural color saturation levels. Major clean-up has been done to the film (bonus features containing clips from the movie show a much dirtier picture), and the transfer is spotless. Black levels aren’t very deep. The film has been divided into 13 chapters.
Powaqqatsi – 4/5
This film follows its predecessor at a 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio faithfully preoduced in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is a bit more consistent here than in the previous film, but even here there are sequences that are softer than others. Color is a touch brighter than in the previous movie with reds registering especially well but never blooming. Skin tones are completely natural throughout. Black levels are no better than in the first film in the trilogy. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
Naqoyqatsi – 4.5/5
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharper and more consistent throughout, this is the best looking of the three movies. Color is richly saturated and with the manipulation by the creators, the colors occasionally but deliberately bloom (especially whites). Black levels are much improved from the previous two transfers. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.
Koyaanisqatsi – 4.5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack features Philip Glass’ moody, eccentric, and wildly innovative score to great advantage with perhaps a noticeable tendency to emphasize the front channels and let the rears receive somewhat less emphasis. The films are, of course, mood pieces and thus not narrative films containing dialogue or sound effects (apart from the mixture of voices over the closing credits).
Powaqqatsi – 4.5/5
Once again, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers Philip Glass’ inventive, eccentric music in a fully realized surround interpretation. There are a few more sound effects here than in the previous film (a waterfall, voices chattering and a vocalist near the film’s end), and these effects also come through clearly and distinctly.
Naqoyqatsi – 5/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix has real presence and fills the soundstage with very impressive fidelity. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s solos are matchless: they are achingly presented and beautifully resonate with the rest of Philip Glass’ expressive score.
All of the bonus features are in 1080p unless otherwise noted.
“Essence of Life” is a 25 ¼-minute series of interviews with director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass. Reggio talks about his early life and what brought him into making films while Glass discusses his intentions with his music. This featurette is presented in 1080i.
Cinematographer Ron Fricke speaks for 16 ½ minutes sharing memories of working with Godfrey Reggio first on filming test demonstration footage in 16mm and then moving into 35mm for their serious work for the movie.
Godfrey Reggio’s Privacy Campaign for New Mexico in his agency the IRE (Institute for Regional Education) produced a series of eight television spot ads through the auspices of the ACLU. They’re presented in a montage that runs 5 ¾ minutes. Reggio explains the purposes of the ads in a 4 ¾-minute introduction.
Godfrey Reggio’s original visual concept for the film included ideas that he later completely abandoned after they were filmed. Those ideas are presented in a 5-minute montage explained by the director.
The 1977 demo version of the movie is presented in three formats. Following Godfrey Reggio’s 4 ¾-minute introduction to the demo which involved the participation of poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, the disc offers the complete 40 ¼-minute silent film demo along with the film in two sound versions featuring chanting by Allen Ginsburg. Those run 31 and 16 ¼-minute respectively.
The film’s trailer runs 2 ¼ minutes.
“Impact of Progress” was filmed in 2002 and once again has director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass discussing what they were after with this second film. Each discusses the enormous freedom they enjoy collaborating with one another and how their collaboration differed for this second film. Reggio also discusses the upcoming third movie in the trilogy Naqoyqatsi in this 20-minute featurette shown in 1080i.
“Inspirations and Ideas” was recorded in 2012 and has director Godfrey Reggio discussing the six men who have had the most profound influence on his life and career. This runs 18 ½ minutes.
“The Qatsi Trilogy” is a 1989 interview conducted for a New Mexico PBS station in which Godfrey Reggio discusses the themes of his trilogy of films with interviewer V. B. Price. It runs 18 ¾ minutes in 1080i.
Anima Mundi is Godfrey Reggio’s 1992 short film showing a spectrum of animal species from microscopic to the largest on the planet (along with views of lava, oceans, and rain forests) accompanied by Philip Glass music and lasting 29 minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 minutes.
Director Godfrey Reggio’s afterword stands as a coda to the movie. He expresses his deepest appreciation for his collaborators and signifies the tremendous importance of the Hopi influences on his work. He discusses the importances of “threes” in his life, and repeats the themes of the three films once again.
“The Making of Naqoyqatsi” is a brief series of interviews with the film’s four primary contributors: director Godfrey Reggio, composer Philip Glass, visual designer Jon Kane, and producer Joe Beirne. It is shown in 1080i.
A 2003 panel discussion on Naqoyqatsi involves Jon Kane, Godfrey Reggio, Philip Glass, and New York Times writer John Rockwell covering much familiar ground to an audience that had not yet seen the third movie. The discussions of the film’s themes and the differences between it and the previous two movies is covered in this 54 ½-minute feature presented in 1080i.
Composer Philip Glass and cellist Yo-Yo Ma discuss their collaboration on the film in a brief 7-minute discussion filmed in 2003 and presented in 1080i.
The theatrical trailer runs 2 minutes in 1080i.
The enclosed 37-page booklet contains color stills from the films, crew lists for all three movies, teacher and author Scott MacDonald’s overview look at the three movies, arts critic John Rockwell’s analysis of Philip Glass’ work on the trilogy, and author Bill McKibben’s correlation between the movies and the breakdown of the natural order.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc and the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
The Qatsi Trilogy can offer different things to different people, and it’s definitely not for all tastes. Criterion offers all three films by Godfrey Reggio in this latest boxed set with a large array of bonus material included. Recommended for those looking for a non-narrative more cinematically philosophical experience with movies.