Blu-ray Review: KOYAANISQATSI (1982) & POWAQQATSI (1988)

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Koyaanisqatsi 

REVIEW: KOYAANISQATSI, POWAQQATSI / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: GODFREY REGGIO / SCREENPLAY: GODFREY REGGIO, RON FRICKE, MICHAEL HOENIG, ALTON WALPOLE, KEN RICHARDS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Still as groundbreaking as the day they were released, this duo of documentary-style films continue to bewitch and beguile viewers, while also prompting debate and reflection on the human condition and the effect of technology.

Both films are a collection of stunningly filmed vignettes which highlight everyday life and natural beauty of the world, inspired by Hopi Indian philosophies and set to the music of Philip Glass. Koyaanisqatsi (Life out of Balance, 1982) contrasts images of cloud formations, waves, and sprawling landscapes with the hustle and bustle of modern life. Filmed, mainly by Ron Fricke, using several techniques including time-lapse and fast/slow-motion, it's a breathtaking experience. The lack of sound effects, dialogue or narration adds a surreal quality to some of the images. Glass' score is as mesmerising and hypnotic as the visuals, making it an exhilarating and striking experience. Powaqqatsi (Life in Transformation, 1988) explores the effect modern Western technology is having on the developing nations of the 'Third World'. Without preaching or laying blame, it shows how progress can have a negative effect on old cultures as well as triumphant success.

While it's a fantastic set, it does seem to be a somewhat missed opportunity to not include the final film in the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi (2002), as the US Criterion edition did. The picture quality, as one would expect from Blu-ray, is brilliant, although does vary occasionally due to the use of different formats during the production: some stock footage particularly looks grainy, but this is used very sparingly. As well as the films, there are two featurettes in which Reggio and Glass discuss the films, and the short Anima Mundi (1992) which focuses on the animal kingdom in the same style as the 'Qatsi' films. The package also includes a superb, informative booklet with new writing on the films and several stills; presented in a landscape format (as are the digibook cases) which exude quality.

Reggio has often said he purposely didn't set any 'meaning' into the films; it's up to the viewer to make their own interpretations. Regardless of what you take from it, the result is never less than spellbinding.

Extras: New, restored digital transfers of Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi, approved by director Godfrey Reggio, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks / Introduction by filmmaker and composer Gary Tarn (Black Sun, The Prophet) / Interviews with Reggio and composer Philip Glass on the making of Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi / Anima Mundi (1992): Reggio’s 28-minute montage of over seventy animal species, scored by Philip Glass / Original theatrical trailers for Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi / Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Anton Bitel, Michael Brooke, Peter Cowie and Jean-Baptiste Gouyon


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