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Many have heard of Koyaanisqatsi however a lot less have seen it. It has been aired on television a few times, and there was a VHS release a while back but the DVD release was a long time coming. If I remember correctly the only way to get it before was to purchase a copy direct from Philip Glass’ web site for several hundred dollars. With the region one release in September of this year, folks wanting the region two will have to wait until January 2003. This is released as part as a double disc DVD set which includes the second film in the trilogy – Powaqqatsi.


The Film
This is not a story as such you might expect, more a journey of images and music. The word Koyaanisqatsi comes from a Hopi Indian word meaning Life out of Balance. Created between 1975 and 1982 the film shows the violent clashes between the technological world we have created against the natural environment of the planet. Vivid beautiful, impressive, ugly and explosive images accompany a soundtrack written by award winning composer Philip Glass.

Some of the imagery is just immense showing the legions of tanks and cars stockpiled ready for use, in contrast to the stark beauty of the sandy valleys and cavernous trenches in the desert. There is a reasonable amount of military footage present with aircraft, aircraft carriers and tanks while missiles and bomb destroy parts of the land. Video from war torn cities is particularly poignant after the military footage showing the desolation left after such attacks. The buildings that surround our daily lives, keeping us above the earth rather than on it are linked together with the powerful musical score. Bustling areas of people are shown in the busy polluted cites of the world in stark comparison with the empty and desolate backdrop of the desert plains.  


There is some incredible footage of buildings being demolished in slow motion. Particularly memorable was a suspension bridge which was having a large section removed. The way that the music moves the film has stirred up emotion and an almost anger for the disrespect we tend to show the Earth in many people after seeing this piece of art.

The music works well in this picture and fits well with each scene however there were a few times when the editing of the music didn’t quite work. A couple of scenes during the film visually leap from one contrasting shot to another and that is fine, but the music changing violently does not quite gel. It seems more of a chop and change rather than properly thought about. Now there are lots of times in this when it flows like a sumptuous wine decanting from a carafe, however it is always easier to pick the faults out in this sort of presentation.  

Around the hour mark when the music really starts to speed up the visuals get almost hypnotic in their speed and relentless in their motion. The sped up footage from the car driving around a city at night complete with light trails is almost reminiscent of Street Hawk (or is that the other way around?) – either way it would look fantastic on a projection system, eight feet across a wall. With the music pounding and the visuals racing it is hard not to get involved with it as your heart races faster and faster until suddenly – silence. And relax.

The film ends with a text translation of the Hopi Prophecies sung in the film:

<table border=0 width=80%><tr><tr>1. If we dig precious things from the land we will invite disaster<td><tr><tr><td>2. Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky<td><tr><tr><td>3. A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans</td></tr></table>
Distressing stuff.


Koyaanisqatsi is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. It is a little grainy in places and at times a little shaky. Colours are reasonable and although slightly muted, they look realistic. Blues are deep and welcoming while the reds are angry and hot with little to no bleeding. The black levels are also more than adequate which was a bit of a surprise considering the films age. There were a fair amount of artefacts present on the print but because the “action” changes so frequently I did not find they detracted from the feature.

This is a very important section of the review as the score is not just a background part of this presentation, but is heavily involved and tied in with the visuals and therefore it has to be right. As I said, a couple of times in the first part of the film I found it a bit cut and dry but it is only two or three times so I was not too fussed about this. Deep bass and light organ music often accompany the slower scenes which are very tranquil. Often, starting slowly and racing up to a crescendo the music delivers a powerful, exciting and forceful audio equivalent of a punch in the chest leaving you slightly breathless. The use of the surround speakers is excellent as it should be and I was heartily impressed by not only the surround sound mix, but by the audio reproduction.


First up is The Essence of Life which is a 25 minute feature which is first rate. It features interviews with the director and the composer. They talk individually about how they came up with the concept for the feature and what it means to them. This is essential viewing and probably not seen before by many of the fans. The theatrical trailer is also included as is the trailer for the next instalment in this trilogy of movies – Powaqqatsi. So not a lot in the way of extras, but the feature is nicely put together and helps the interpretation of some of the on screen imagery.

Not for everyone, this DVD is not likely to be watched many times by its owners, except by fans of the film. However its startling visuals and exquisite score certainly mean it should be watched at least once. Audio enthusiasts who are purchasing it just for the soundtrack might want to pick up the DVD-Audio version which features both Dolby Digital 5.1 surround as well as the Advanced Resolution Audio that a DVD-Audio Player can provide. Those of you wanting to see the revolutionary film should try this version out, available with the second film in the series Powaqqatsi, as a two disc box set.