Koyaanisqatsi, available in Criterion’s box set of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi Trilogy, comes to Blu-ray in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on the first dual-layer disc of the three-disc set. The film receives a new 1080p/24hz high-definition digital transfer, taken from the original 35mm negative. Criterion’s notes on the transfer mention that they used the 1999 transfer supervised by Reggio as a frame of reference. There has been some debate about the aspect ratio already since there is a version framed in 1.33:1 open matte showing more information at the top and bottom. A post at Home Theater Forum referencing an e-mail from the producer of the third film, Naqoyqatsi, mentions that Reggio shot the film in 1.33:1, keeping television broadcasts in mind, but always envisioned the film to be shown theatrically in the widescreen ratio. Since widescreen televisions are more prominent today the widescreen ratio is Reggio’s preferred one for home video releases. Since this edition is also approved by Reggio I would have to say this is how he wants the film presented on Blu-ray.
Getting past all of that and focusing on the transfer itself I’m pleased to say that yet again Criterion delivers another extraordinary filmic transfer. Colours may be the most striking aspect of the transfer, which look absolutely life-like and perfectly saturated. The blue skies, the reds of Monument Valley, the many neon lights found within the cities, everything comes off looking absolutely brilliant. Black levels are strong, looking deep and inky, never crushing details. The many night sequences in the cities, with the whizzing red and white lights of the cars in time-lapse footage, are particularly impressive. Detail levels are very high, even in the long shots of the various locations within the film. Film grain remains and looks clean. Artifacts are also non-existent.
There were some reddish stains in the print early on, very minor but noticeable, and some pulsating is detectable in a few areas but the print is in otherwise near-perfect condition. Even what appears to be stock 16mm footage looks excellent. The restoration overall is impressive.
Koyaanisqatsi is the kind of film that screams for a Blu-ray release and Criterion does it justice. It’s an absolutely stunning presentation. 9/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Supplements are found on all discs in the set, each disc primarily focusing on the respective film of that disc. Koyaanisqatsi’s supplements begin with a feature found previously on the MGM DVD called Essence of Life, a 25-minute piece consisting of interviews with director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass. Reggio begins talking about possible meanings to the film, ultimately leaving it to the audience, who will either find it an environmental film, an ode to technology, or “a piece of shit.” He then talks about how the project came to be, born while working on films for a group called the “Institute for Regional Education.” He wanted to make a film that didn’t have any words and brought elements usually in the background of a film to the foreground. He explains the reason behind the title, after initially playing with the idea of having an image for the title instead. Philip Glass then talks about joining the project and the rather intriguing genesis behind the score and how Reggio edited it into the film. The most interesting aspect of this is that even though Glass timed his score for certain scenes, Reggio ended up using pieces written for certain parts for other sequences in the film. Glass then talks about a few specific scenes. Though a hold-over from the 2002 DVD it’s still an excellent set of interviews and I’m glad Criterion decided to carry it over to their release.
Director of Photography Ron Fricke next provides a new interview, recorded in 2012, discussing his involvement in the project. He covers early concepts for the film, talking about test 16mm footage, some of which is shown in behind-the-scenes footage. He then moves on to the themes present in the film, which he admittedly didn’t entirely understand or agree with, but he was up to the challenge of creating the images needed for the film. He continues on about certain tricks, specifically the time lapse footage that’s used pretty liberally throughout. He’s very fond of the film and the footage taken, and seems to regret that the film wasn’t ultimately shot in 70mm. A nice addition, running 16-minutes.
Criterion next devotes a section to a privacy campaign Reggio did at the Institute for Regional Education for the American Civil Liberties Union and run in New Mexico. Reggio first provides a 5-minute interview talking briefly about the project, which was about “invasion of privacy and the use of technology to control behavior.” He also covers the various forms of media they targeted, from television, to radio, to newspapers, to build boards, and more. We then get all 8 television spots that were shown on local New Mexico stations in 1974. There are eight in total, running under 6-minutes altogether. The first five are pretty abstract, attempting to show, I guess, the various ways government or other entities can invade one’s privacy using technology. The remaining three, using some creative imagery again, make their objectives a little more clear.
Reggio then provides an interview covering his original visual concept for Koyaanisqatsi. Expanding on what Fricke briefly covered in his interview, Reggio, with the aid of behind-the-scenes segments, talks about a film that was more obvious in its message, and in certain ways, probably far more literal. He abandoned it after he realized the film would become too “corny” if he went that path. Unfortunately he wasted quite a bit of his budget on it. It probably would have been interesting to see all of the footage, though judging by the samples we get it would have been incredibly painful to sit through.
Another section presents the 1977 Demo Version of the film. Reggio first provides a 4-minute introduction talking about the purpose of this demo version, put together on 16mm. Looking for music to accompany it he initially took it to the Naropa Institute to show to Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky (running into William S. Burroughs and Stan Brakhage, who Reggio describes as “not friendly.”) After showing the silent demo to Ginsberg the two then made a “scratch track” to accompany the film. Criterion includes the entire 40-minute silent version of the demo film, which contains footage mostly taken in the cities. Interestingly it features some extended segments of what appear in the film along with footage that did not make it. We then get two “sound clips” presenting sections of the film with Ginsberg’s improvised music, which consists of him usually describing what’s on screen and then adding a beatnik twist. The first part runs 31-minutes and the second runs 16-minutes. It’s a really cool feature, though I’m glad Reggio didn’t go this route; it gets tiring rather quickly.
The disc then closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer. The set the comes with a booklet covering the trilogy and aspects of its production.
Overall Criterion delivers a unique and rather intriguing set of supplements, charting the history of the film and the beginnings of the trilogy, also offering a rather fascinating look into what could have been alternate versions of the film. 8/10