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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • 3 Discs
FEATURES
  • Essence of Life, an interview program with Reggio and composer Philip Glass on Koyaanisqatsi
  • New interview with cinematographer Ron Fricke about Koyaanisqatsi
  • Early forty-minute demo version of Koyaanisqatsi with a scratch soundtrack by Allen Ginsberg, along with a new introduction by Reggio
  • New interview with Reggio about Koyaanisqatsi's original visual concept, with behind-the-scenes footage
  • Impact of Progress, an interview program with Reggio and Glass on their collaboration
  • Inspiration and Ideas, an interview with Reggio about his greatest influences and teachers
  • Anima Mundi (1992), Reggio's twenty-eight-minute montage of images of over seventy animal species, scored by Glass
  • Video afterword by Reggio on the trilogy
  • The Making of "Naqoyqatsi," a brief documentary featuring interviews with the production crew
  • Panel discussion on Naqoyqatsi from 2003, with Reggio, Glass, editor Jon Kane, and music critic John Rockwell
  • Music of "Naqoyqatsi," an interview with Glass and cellist Yo-Yo Ma
  • Television spots and an interview with Reggio relating to his 1970s multimedia privacy campaign in New Mexico
  • Trailers

The Qatsi Trilogy

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Godfrey Reggio
2012 | 274 Minutes | Licensor: MGM Home Entertainment

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $79.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #639
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: December 11, 2012
Review Date: December 15, 2012

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SYNOPSIS

A singular artist and activist, Godfrey Reggio is best known for his galvanizing trio of films The Qatsi Trilogy. Astonishingly photographed, and featuring unforgettable, cascading scores by Philip Glass, these are immersive sensory experiences that meditate on the havoc humankind's fascination with technology has wreaked on our world. From 1983's Koyaanisqatsi (the title is a Hopi word that means "life out of balance") to 1988's Powaqqatsi ("life in transformation) to 2002's Naqoyqatsi ("life as war"), Reggio takes us on an edifying journey from the ancient to the contemporary, from nature to industry and back again, all the while keeping our eyes wide with wonder.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Criterion presents a new box set for Godfrey Reggio’s The Qatsi Trilogy, which includes the films Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, and Naqoyqatsi. Each film is delivered on a dual-layer disc with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer. The first two films are presented in their theatrical aspect ratios of 1.85:1 while Naqoyqatsi is presented in 1.78:1.

Of the three Naqoyqatsi is the weakest one, but only because of how it was put together. The film is made up of stock footage from varying sources, ranging from film to VHS to standard-definition video. This material was then all put together, mixed in with computer animation, and then digitally altered. Unfortunately the dated computer technology has created some artifacts on top of what may have been already in the footage. Jagged edges, shimmering, edge-enhancement, and banding are common issues found within the altered footage. In a lot of cases, though not all, the film looks like standard-definition upscaled to high-definition. But having said all of that, the transfer in the end does adequately represent the film, which is simply limited because of how it was put together. Those expecting a crisp high-definition transfer are simply not going to get that.

Thankfully the first two films, which are made up primarily of 35mm footage shot for the film (with some stock footage) and unaltered, other than being sped up or slowed down in the editing room, look much better and are far more natural. Both Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi deliver unbelievably filmic transfers; both look like a projected film. They’re stable, and clean, presenting no artifacts of any sort. Colours are boldly rendered, looking natural and pure, and black levels are rich and deep. Everything is sharp and clear, with details even coming through clearly in long shots. Film grain is rendered wonderfully, remaining natural and never looking like noise. Powaqqatsi slightly edges out Koyaanisqatsi in taking the award of “Best Transfer” in the set, only because damage is more evident in the first film, but I’d say both discs were demo worthy.

In all I think each transfer does deliver as strong a presentation as possible, accurately representing each film as close as possible. It’s a stunning job by everyone involved.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi

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.

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Koyaanisqatsi

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Koyaanisqatsi

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Koyaanisqatsi

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Koyaanisqatsi

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Koyaanisqatsi

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Koyaanisqatsi

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Powaqqatsi

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Powaqqatsi

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Powaqqatsi

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Powaqqatsi

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Powaqqatsi

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Powaqqatsi

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Naqoyqatsi

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Naqoyqatsi

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Naqoyqatsi

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Naqoyqatsi

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Naqoyqatsi

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Naqoyqatsi

AUDIO

All three films presents scores by Philip Glass in lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround and all three sound rather incredible. Naqoyqatsi’s score may come off as the weakest of the three but that seems to be more by design, with activity remaining heaviest in the fronts. The other two present more active scores that completely envelope the viewer as though they’re sitting there in the middle of the performing orchestra. Range, volume levels, bass, and fidelity are all incredible and spot on. The sound comes off pure and crisp with no distortion or noise. The sound is about as perfect as one could ask and it may be my favourite aspect to his release. Like the video the sound could be considered demo worthy.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi

10/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Supplements are found on all discs in the set, each disc primarily focusing on the respective film of that disc. The first disc presents the film Koyaanisqatsi and the 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 second disc, which presents Powaqqatsi, starts with another supplement found previously on the MGM DVD, Impact of Progress, a 19-minute piece featuring interviews with director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass. In it Reggio talks about the meaning of the word “powaqqatsi” and how it relates to the themes within the film. He addresses a few criticisms and talks about certain sequences. Glass comments on how the score was done this time around, with the score apparently being written first and then the film, as I understood it, shot around it with the cameraman listening to the appropriate song while filming. The two then talk about how the idea of a trilogy came about and Reggio gets a little into Naqoyqatsi (which would have been coming out around the time the piece was filmed) and then the difficulties in getting the third film financed, despite the fact the first two films did pretty well financially. Overall an engaging interview with some interesting insights.

Inspiration and Ideas runs under 19-minutes and presents a new interview with Reggio talking about his various influences. They include Ivan Illich, Leopold Kohr, Hopi Traditional Leader David Monongye, Jacques Ellul, Guy Debord, and director Luis Buñuel. He talks about the various books these minds wrote, or films in the case of Buñuel, and it’s easy to see how they made it into the films. It’s also amusing listening to him recall showing his work to a few of these people, Illich apparently trashing Koyaanisqatsi. Reggio can be a bit long winded at times during it but it still proves to be a fascinating addition, delving deeper into the themes within the films of the trilogy.

There’s a 18-minute segment from a 1989 episode of a public access show produced in New Mexico called ¡Colores!. This episode features one V.B. Price interviewing the director, talking about his ”Qatsi Trilogy”, which was still 13-or-so years away in being completed. Reggio talks about the themes of technology and its effects on people and cultures, again addressing the possible hypocrisy in using a medium like film when criticizing technology. He talks a bit about Hopi culture and how the philosophies and ideals are presented in the films, and even mentions Naqoyqatsi, which would have only been an idea at the time. He concludes with his thoughts on the “nature of technological order” and the “death of nature”. Some repeated material but another feature worth watching.

Criterion then includes Reggio’s 1992 short film Anima Mundi, complete with score by Philip Glass, which, for 29-minutes, basically shows various animals in their natural habitats. The disc concludes with Cannon’s (!?) theatrical trailer for the film.

The third disc, presenting Naqoyqatsi, has very little new material unfortunately, made up mostly of material found on the previous Disney/Miramax DVD edition of the film (which is now distributed by Lionsgate.) It does begin with a new feature, Afterwords by the Director, which is a new interview with Godfrey Reggio where the director reflects on the trilogy as a whole. He praises the talent of all of those involved in the films from Ron Fricke to Philip Glass to John Kane and reflects on rounding up funds for the film and seems surprised by their success. He’s also amused by the fact stores didn’t know how to categorize the films when they were released on home video. He then concludes with talking about his obsession with the number “3” and then goes over the styles and themes found within the films. It’s only 16-minutes but a decent enough summation of his thoughts on the films.

Following this is a fairly useless PR piece called The Making of “Naqoyqatsi” which features interviews with Reggio, Glass, Kane, and producer John Beirne. It only runs 4-minutes and doesn’t really present anything of value.

Much better is footage from a 2003 panel discussion featuring Reggio, Glass, Kane, and, acting as moderator, music critic John Rockwell, who all go over the trilogy as a whole but pay special attention to Naqoyqatsi. It was included on the original DVD as well. Most can probably skip through the first 20-minutes of the 54-minute feature if they’ve watched the supplements on the other discs in the set as Reggio and Glass repeat a lot of information found in those supplements, from how they collaborated to Reggio again mentioning how he wanted Koyaanisqatsi’s title to actually just be an image. But it gets more interesting when editor/designer Kane (who receives a rather brutal introduction by Rockwell) talks about how Naqoyqatsi was put together, though I cringed when Photoshop gets mentioned. One of the more interesting aspects about the films not mentioned anywhere else in the supplements on the other discs in the set were the “scenarios” Kane had to work with. It turns out the films did have a script of sorts, but they’re made up simply of images and notes on what each sequence represents. In this case Kane took these scenarios and then searched for stock footage to best suit them, shooting scenes in some cases where appropriate footage couldn’t be found, and then put them together using Avid.

Another interesting aspect taken from here is how Naqoyqatsi was originally planned. Reggio mentions that the idea of the film remained the same since the 90’s, though actually wanted to use analog technologies to do it. He even approached George Lucas for money and even though Lucas agreed he told Reggio that what he wanted to do would be impossible. Reggio realized he was right and held off on the film. This film is so different in structure compared to the other two I wondered if Reggio had drastically changed the idea of the film over the years but apparently this wasn’t the case. All that changed was how he would do it. In all the most valuable supplement on this disc, and one of the better ones in the overall set.

Also from the original Miramax DVD is a conversation between Philip Glass and Yo-Yo Ma, who talk about the music and the use of the cello for 7-minutes. It’s a decent inclusion, especially when the two obviously really get into talking about the “movement” of the music, seeming to forget the camera is there recording them. The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer.

The set then comes with a 35-page booklet featuring an essay on the trilogy by Scott MacDonald. Following this is a piece on Philip Glass’ score written by John Rockwell and then an essay on the trilogy’s environmental message by scholar Bill McKibbenm who wrote a book on climate change called The End of Nature. Though I really do with there was more scholarly material on the discs themselves, this booklet does round out this aspect nicely enough and makes for an excellent read.

Overall we get a solid set of material going over the development of the films and their various themes. Despite a couple of lackluster inclusions, everything is worth going through.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi, Naqoyqatsi

8/10

CLOSING

Even if I wished there was more scholarly material in the supplements, what we get is very good and interesting, covering the development of the trilogy rather well. But what I think really sells the set is the audio and video, with the discs for the first two films being demo worthy. It’s an incredible set, and one of Criterion’s best releases of the year.


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