Visitors (US - BD RA)
Jonathan watches the latest from the director of The Qatsi Trilogy...
Visitors is the fourth collaboration of director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass now joined by filmmaker Jon Kane, advancing the film form pioneered by The Qatsi Trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and Naqoyqatsi): the non-spoken narrative experience where each viewer's response is radically different yet undeniably visceral. As Reggio explains, " Visitors is aimed at the solar plexus, at the appetite within us all, the atmosphere of our soul. I see the film as a meditation, as a transcendental event." Comprised of only seventy-four shots, a series of human, animal and landscape portraits, Visitors takes movie watchers on an emotional journey to the moon and back. (From the Cinedigm synopsis)
Visitors is the type of film I respect a lot more than I actually enjoy watching. I have a fondness for The Qatsi Trilogy and Ron Fricke's similar work, Baraka and Samsara. Though a bit heavy handed, the epic scope of those projects and stunning imagery made for a unforgettable experience. Visitors is very much in the same vein as those films, but with a different approach that resembles something closer to an art installation. Much of the run time is given to very static images of people's faces. They are like living photographs, and you would hardly know you were watching recorded footage if they didn't occasionally blink or wince. In one of the special features Reggio explains that the longer you look at these faces the more they start to look strange, and that it is like seeing a face for the first time. It's an interesting project for sure, but I can't help but feel it would be more at home in an art museum in a truncated form.
These shots are broken up with some truly gorgeous photography of towering buildings and natural settings that are alien in appearance. The stark contrast of the images makes the plants look super white and the sky pitch black, almost like inverted colors. The synopsis mentions animal portraits too, but the only animal present is a single gorilla who makes a few appearances and a quick shot of some birds. How all of this ties together thematically is up to the viewer to decide. Reggio's focus, based on interviews, is that this is a meditation on our relationship to technology. That's fair, and when we see shots of floating hands tapping on invisible screens or game controllers, its easy to make that connection. Reggio has already covered that relationship thoroughly in his previous films. I found it more intriguing to view Visitors as a take on humans as an alien form of life on Earth. Just look at the title. After all, the movie does imply that we are seeing everything from the moon's perspective, and it fits the almost-inverted nature imagery and odd faces. But like most art of this type, everyone will take away something a little different. I'd be lying if I said I had a strong reaction to the experience, but I can't deny that there is something hypnotic and worthy of attention here. I wouldn't be surprised to find myself revisiting it in a few years.
Visitors was shot in 4K digital, so the image on this 1080p transfer is extremely vivid and gorgeous to look at it. The many faces look like high resolution living photography, with extraordinary detail in their skin, eyes and hair. The high contrast shots of outdoor buildings and scenes from nature are especially striking, with bold blacks and glistening whites and nary a sign of compression artefacts. The only flaw I could really find in this transfer is some peculiar color on the edges of certain objects. The film is shot in black and white, but if you look closely at the edges in some shots you can see faint green/red shadows, very similar to the chromatic aberrations that lenses produce in color photography. Usually in black and white photography this will just make the image blurry, but there is clearly color present here. I can't say for sure what the cause is, but its likely something to do with the process they used to convert the film to black and white. Luckily it is a pretty minor distraction and aside from this observation the transfer is very pleasing to the eye.
There isn't a whole lot to say about this particular audio track. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is dedicated solely to Philip Glass's score. Glass puts out the kind of quality work he is known for, but there is nothing here that lives up to his more memorable work on pictures like Mishima and Koyaanisqatsi. Thinking back on the film a couple days after viewing it, I can't recall any melody or particular passage, but at the time of viewing it always felt appropriate and stirring. He contributes greatly to the hypnotic mood of the picture, and this DTS-HD track does his score well. Every audio channel from front to back was alive with the score for the entirety of the picture, including some consistent action from the LFE channel.
Extras kick off with The Making of Visitors - The Creators Project (HD, 06:45), which is mostly interview footage with Reggio and associate director Jon Kane. Reggio talks about why he uses black and white, his own relationship with technology as a filmmaker, and the counter-intuitive approach he took to making the movie. Next up is Behind the Scenes of Visitors (HD, 08:25). This opens with some narration describing the work of Reggio, then goes into some interview snippets from Steven Soderbergh, Reggio, Jon Kane and Philip Glass. This gives some general information on the production. It was cool to hear from Glass that he is around for much of the shooting. Last of all are Interviews, of which there are four. There's Godfrey Reggio (HD, 10:21), Philip Glass (HD, 09:09), Jon Kane (HD, 07:56) and finally Steven Soderbergh (HD, 08:24). Glass and the filmmakers talk specifically about the film and working together, while Soderbergh talks very kingly of Reggio's work and the influence it has had on commercials and on his own work. Last of all there some Trailers (HD, 06:37 for the movie.
I can't say Visitors did a whole lot for me, but I admire the ideas at play and found many of the images arresting. Fans of Reggio's previous work will want to give it a chance, but be aware that this is much closer to an art museum project than any of his previous non-narrative documentaries. Fans can enjoy a Blu-ray release with excellent AV quality and a decent offering of interviews and behind the scenes material.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Release Date: 10th June 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Extras: Behind the Scenes, Personal Interviews with Godfrey Reggio + Philip Glass + Jon Kane + Steven Soderbergh, The Making of Visitors, Trailers, DVD Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Godfrey Reggio
Length: 87 minutes
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