Qatsi Trilogy (Koyaanisqatsi, Powaaqatsi, Naqoyqatsi)

Director - Godfrey Reggio

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 3

Distributor - Criterion

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

Date - 12/22/12


The Trilogy (3.5/5)

    In the early 1970's Werner Herzog would begin his acclaimed trilogy of films beginning with Fata Morgana, and later continuing with Lessons of Darkness, before concluding with the Wild Blue Yonder.  This trilogy of films are non-linear in their approach, and show some more interesting aspects of our world. Herzog referred to this trio of films as his science-fiction trilogy.

    Godfrey Reggio's 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, and it's 2 follow up films Powaaqatsi, and Noqoyqatsi, can seemingly take that science fiction tag for themselves as well.  Aside from sharing a similar non-linear approach to filmmaking as the earlier Herzog film (Fata Morgana was made in 1971, the latter 2 would surface after the first 2 Qatsi films). It also seems to tell a science fiction-esque story purely through it's visuals.

    The Qatsi trilogy when taken as a cohesive whole seem to detail the corruption of the natural world and our society by commercialization, industrialization, and digitalization.  Through the use of images and the excellent score by Philip Glass, Reggio manages to tell a truly epic story on a global scale.

    Koyaanisqatsi, famed for it's use of time lapse photography and intense cinematography kicks off the trilogy with a bang.  The films title means Life out of Balance in the Hopi language, and yet this is the most thematically balanced of the 3 Qatsi films. Koyaanisqatsi performs a unique balancing act showcasing the natural beauty of our world, and the effects of industry on that natural space.

    Powaaqatsi for the most part disregards the speed of the initial film allowing the viewer to spend more time soaking in the natural landscapes of many southern hemisphere locales.  The film opens with a truly grandiose opening shot of villagers at a dig working together for a greater goal, this will tie in to the trilogy's themes of the endurance of the human spirit, that are showcased more explicitly in the concluding chapter.  To offer another Herzog comparison I felt myself with the same feeling watching this moment that I had watching the opening sequence of Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, only this was not staged for the cameras.   It is moments such as that one that are peppered through the rest of the film that set the state for the third film in the trilogy that would come 15 years later.

    Noqoyqatsi sees Reggio returning to complete the Qatsi cycle 15 years after 1987's Powaaqatsi.  In many ways Noqoyqatsi feels like a coda to the 2 prior films.  If Koyaanisqatsi and Powaaqatsi offered a glimpse of a potential future, a sort of "what if?" should we continue on our industrial and technological path, Noqoyqatsi shows up in that future.  We are now in square in the digital era, and the film reflects this.  Gone are the beautiful landscapes, and in their place are neon lights, and binary code.  We are part of "The Matrix."

    Reggio, the eternal optimist does have moments showing that all is not lost with society, and has moments such as an extended montage of Olympic athletes to show the endurance of the human spirit in the face of our new industrial and digital landscape. Now, I don't have problems with a director going back to their work and completing it, but typically speaking when a filmmaker goes back to their most popular work after an extended period of time their approach has greatly shifted from the place where they were when they made the original work. 

    I felt that there was a certain disconnect between the Godfrey Reggio who made Koyaanisqatsi and Powaaqatsi, and the one who made Noqoyqatsi.  I had seen the original 2 films one time prior to this viewing, but had never seen the third, I had heard very mixed things about it.  When I started viewing it, I found myself enjoying it, until the aforementioned Olympic sequence, and then from there moments intertwining footage from the 1994 PC Game Doom with footage of actual shootings, which seemed to imply a connection between a digital violent reality, and actual violence.

    The Reggio who made the first 2 films made very political and environmentally conscious films but managed to weave those issues more into the subtext, even when the images stated otherwise. Noqoyqatsi, on the other hand was more heavy handed in it's approach, toward the issues. Whether or not I agree with him or certain matters, I always find it off-putting when something that should be subtext takes center stage.  I agree heavily with the politics in Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America, but the fact that it was so front and center took me out of the film for much of it's running time.

    The fact is the most genuine classic in this package is 1982's Koyaanisqatsi, while 1987's Powaaqatsi, makes an excellent B-side to the first feature.  I will say that Noqoyqatsi does help to tie the themes in the films together, but feels less like a part of the same trilogy, and more like an epilogue created at a much later date.


Audio/Video (4/5)

    The Qatsi trilogy comes to Blu-ray in a series of stunning 1080p AVC encoded transfer.  The first 2 films are presented in their original 1:85:1 aspect ratios, while the 3rd film in the trilogy is presented in it's original 1:78:1 aspect ratio.  All 3 films have been given very beautiful film like transfers.  In the earlier 2 films colors are lush, vivid, natural, and pop from the screen.  There are very inky and deep black levels, and the flesh tones when on display are accurate. There is a nice healthy level of grain throughout the 3 films.  The third film has a more digital look to it as is the nature of that particular film, and is also reproduced wonderfully here.  Color reproduction is fantastic, black levels are  similarly solid, and flesh tones also accurate. 

     All 3 Qatsi films are accompanied by a stellar DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track.  This track reproduces all of Philip Glass' wonderful work in stunning clarity and detail.  I have listened to the soundtrack to the first film on DVD, CD, MP3, and Vinyl, and this is the finest I have heard it sound.


Extras (5/5)

    Criterion has pulled out all the stops for their Qatsi trilogy release. The Koyaanisqatsi disc kicks off with a 2002 interview with Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass discussion the trilogy as a whole.  This interview is followed up with a more recent one with Koyaanisqatsi cinematographer Ron Fricke where he discusses his overall contributions to the film.  It runs roughly 17 minutes.   We then get an extra entitled Privacy Campaign that is a series 8 TV spots totally 6 minutes that Reggio created in 1974 to warn residents of New Mexico about their privacy in light of new technology. The spots are accompanied by a 5 minute interview with Reggio regarding them.   We then have another 5 minute interview with Godfrey Reggio discussing his original concept for the film.  This leads into my favorite extra in the set, the original 1977 scratch demo version of Koyaanisqatsi.  This includes a 41 minute silent version, but also a few minutes full of clips with a soundtrack created by Reggio, and accompanied by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

    We then move onto the disc for Powaaqatsi, this disc opens up with another interview with Philip Glass and Godfrey Reggio on the trilogy.  We then have a 19 minute interview with Reggio that discusses his influences and ideas, and the application of them to his work. This is followed up by the original 3 minute trailer for Powaaqatsi (was anyone else surprised this was a Cannon film?) We then continue on to a 19 minute segment from a New Mexico public access TV show that interviews Godfrey Reggio on his vision for the then incomplte Qatsi Trilogy. This disc is rounded off with another short film collaboration by Glass and Reggio titled Anima Mundi.

    Naqoyqatsi's extras open with an afterword by director Godfrey Reggio that runs 17 minutes and discusses his thoughts on the trilogy as a whole.  This is new, and was filmed for Criterion in 2012.  We then have an 8 minute interview with Philip Glass and Cellist Yo-Yo Ma that runs 8 minutes and discusses their unique musical contributions to the film. This is followed by a 55 minute panel discussion with Reggio, Glass, and the films editor Jon Kane recorded at NYU in 2003. This disc is rounded off by a 5 minute making of the film, and the films trailer. The set includes a booklet of critical essays about the trilogy.



    Godfrey Reggio's Qatsi trilogy is a unique, and beautiful series of films that is finally getting the attention they deserve via Criterion.  The A/V restoration is truly a sight to see, and the extras are elaborate and informative. HIGHLY RECOMMENED.