Koyaanisqatsi/Powaqqatsi Double Pack (UK - BD RB)
Marcus experiences a visual and audio delight as he goes around the world...
Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass’s Koyaanisqatsi ("life out of balance") and Powaqqatsi ("life in transformation") are the first two parts of a trilogy of experimental documentaries whose titles derive from Hopi compound nouns.
Life Out of Balance (86 mins)
There’s a bleak but epic loneliness to Koyaaisqatsi that almost shows the human race as a virus that’s not really part of the planet it’s on and they seems largely oblivious to the destruction they are causing in a repetitive cycle that has no end. It’s a powerful visual and audio combination and often feels like it's building to something. Maybe seeking to provide an answer to some endless question along the lines of "What is the meaning of life?" but it’s never that obvious, it just make you think of these grand questions as you watch life speed by. The other sad part is that we now of course know what life is 30 years after this film was released and it’s just more repetition with more buttons to push. We're still in the same old seemingly unbreakable loop and Koyaaisqatsi seems to have known back 1983 when it was released.
Some of the imagery of our man-made society here all feels so stark and unnatural and the combination with Glass's music makes everything feel so destructive or overbearing when compared to the majesty that’s felt within the landscape and nature based segments. It’s rare that a dialogues-less film can muster up so much emotion and seemingly tell a story with just interconnecting, though not obviously related imagery but Koyaaisqatsi feels like it has so much to say but its up to the viewer to decide what that might be. The stand out piece for me was exploding space rocket sequence at the end of the film. It was in large part rather abstract but it’s packed with so much raw emotion when paired with Glass’s haunting score, it’s makes for a very odd but utterly effective experience much like the whole of the film really.
Life in Transformation (99 mins)
The second film, Powaqqatsi from 1988 is less about impact and aggressively paced editing and more of a celebration of life in small communities around the world. Despite many of the hardships shown, there’s a real sense of joy. Visuals of nature and people working together to achieve and faces staring out at us with odd expressions, makes it all very personal. Yes, there’s a bleaker side to all that’s shown and some dire circumstances but this film is about celebrating the ways the human race manage to work with the land rather than against it, which makes for a much warmer experience and one that isn’t so aggressive with its edits and is happier to glide through life.
The video presentation for Koyaanisqatsi is a little soft by today's modern standards but it doesn't make the visuals any less striking. There's often moments of great depth and detail but there’s also a lot of grain that distances this view of the world from feeling as alive is it might do with more modern cameras and technology. Of course, that’s largely beside the point unless the film was going to be totally remade, so on the film's own 1983 terms does this make the most use of a 1080p overhaul?
Absolutely. Despite the small instances of overbearing grain Koyaaisqatsi manages to looks lush and natural in ways many modern HD documentary films can often loose with their boosted HD colours and techniques that I sometimes feel make our planet look other worldly.. Koyaaisqatsi looks natural within all of its locations and isn't afraid to show the drabness of an area in the same ways it celebrates the glorious visuals of another. The clarity and general quality can change from scene to scene and even from frame to frame at times. There’s a real obvious jump between the expertly shot footage for the film and the stock footage for a lot of the military segments for example. This can often highlight the film's age, and the filming technology of the period (or indeed the period the stock footage was taken from) but Koyaaisqatsi still holds up as a visual delight 30 plus years after its release and shows a fantastic overview of our world in the early 80s through some insanely powerful images and juxtaposition.
Powaqqatsi is noticeably crisper from the offset. Natural light looks wonderful and the glow of sweating skin, sun light reflections and just plain everything looks clean, detailed and fantastic in 1080p. The same natural colours are on show, the same sense of realism in every frame are felt entirely and this vision of life and it use of edited images just leap out of the screen. Once again, there a bit of grain but it’s much reduced in this second movie.
This 1988 feature and its world culture celebration is packed with more colours, more range and shows a distinct step up in the details department. Clothing is often striking in close ups, slivers of light glow vividly and browns and oranges really do bring the image to natural life. Powaqqatsi fits into the world of Blu-ray with far more show off elements. It’s not quite up to modern standards but it’s very, very close at times and even has a few glimmers of reference quality stuff. This is a beautiful looking film and this Blu-ray is more than up to the task of selling that beauty.
The crystal clear all encompassing score on both films is a fantastic experience in audio presentation. Koyaanisqatsi is haunting, dramatic and pure Phillip Glass. The bass can be wall shaking at its peaks and the sheer power of the track is extremely impressive. There’s a perfect balance in all the speakers, with elements going on all over the room and when the 'Pruitt Igoe' or the haunting 'Prophecies' pieces are at their most powerful this is wonder in 5.1 awesomeness. These segments and many more literally take over the room and locks your attention into the film entirely. It’s fantastic stuff!
The sometimes surprisingly upbeat score on this second film is far removed from Glass's work on the first. There's uplifting Truman Show finale style pieces and even the end of The Phantom Menace style celebration drives that don’t always seem to quite fit the visuals at times especially coming out of the aggressively emotional Koyaanisqatsi but it does make for a very different mood. This does not reduce the overall mix though as once again this is a powerful all encompassing affair, with strong peaks and bassy lows. It even features a few raw elements such as children playing and water flowing to add something different. It all works very well from a technical side, even if within the film itself it often feels misplaced or disjointed.
The ‘Introduction by Filmaker and Composer Gary Tarn’ (03:39) talks of the inspiration he took from Koyaaisqatsi and his fascination with the history of film perfectly in unison with music and it really is a great introduction to view before taking these journeys.
‘Essence of Life’ (25:08 SD) is an overview of the film with Reggio and Glass explaining the film and how it is intended as a journey largely down to the individual viewers perception of what they are seeing. This is a perfect accompaniment to Koyaaisqatsi and puts the film in a little bit of context and helps explain the origins of such a bold venture in film.
Lastly on this first disc is the trailer.
‘Impact of Progress’ (19:56 SD) explains Philip Glass's deeper input into to process of the film and the progression in the duo's collaborations. Once again the use of film and music and its infinite possibilities are discussed and the world of computers and how all powerful that element of our world is now. The cultures in the film and how the film should be viewed is laid out very well and how the film is made proves to be a fascinating story in itself.
'Anima Mundi' (29:05 HD) is a restored short film featuring wildlife and again we end the second disc with the film’s trailer.
Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi are wonders in filmmaking really. The perfect blend of visuals and music make the experience with both films beautifully unique and both are moving in their own ways. Powaqqatsi was a fantastic view of cultures around the world in a celebration of life and working with the land and Koyaanisqatsi is a much more aggressive affair that shows the mass consumption and endless cycle the western world has got itself caught up in.
The discs for both films look fantastic, even with their age taken into account, with Powaqqatsi holding a lot of reference quality elements. Both films have some of the best sounding audio tracks out there and Koyaanisqatsi has such a great score, this presentation of it is probably about 70% of the reason I got so locked into the experience. Extras wise, both discs provide enough to be happy with and really its just a shame the third film 2002's Naqoyqatsi, or "life in war" was no included in the boxset.
Review by Marcus Doidge
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 12th May 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Stereo 2.0
Extras: Featurettes, Trailer, Short Film
Easter Egg: No
Director: Godfrey Reggio
Length: 185 minutes
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