Koyaanisqatsi / Powaqqatsi Review

Baz looks at the recent Arrow release of Godfrey Reggio’s stunning films.

Koyaanisqatsi. Koyaanisqatsi. Koyaanisqatsi. So chimes the mesmerising soundtrack accompanying this movie. Nay, this JOURNEY to see our planet Earth as we rarely see it. In truth, what we see is, nowadays, readily available through any number of sources on the internet if one desires to seek it out but here, in 1982, director Godfrey Reggio, was way ahead of his time.

Godfrey freely admits, in the interview included on this disc, that Koyaanisqatsi is the result of many, many people’s work but mention must be made of photographer Ron Fricke and composer Philip Glass, without whom, the film would be very different. Or simply wouldn’t exist.

Never before, excepting Musicals or Rock Opera, have I seen that marriage between visuals and sound be quite so symbiotic. We start, gently, in deserted landscapes, up with the clouds and rolling with the waves. We see a Saturn rocket take-off, fields of flowers and beautiful, man-made lakes. The music begins to birl and whirl and we see power lines and mines, man and machine, traffic and technology, building to a frenetic, hypnotic melee of synthesised rhythms and whizzing time lapse photography of cars on the freeway at night and clouds reflecting on NY skyscrapers. Cut to a broiling Metropolis and all its dizzying array of life-forms, then, we see the decay and degradation of the slums and housing projects and ultimately the death and destruction of long abandoned buildings and factories. People come across as so many ants, running to and fro. To work. Then home. Back to work again. On the tube. On a plane. Into space. As insignificant as ants yet we’ve travelled into space and, damningly, irrevocably changed our planet. In a particularly apt sequence we cut from hundreds of wiener sausages being processed on their conveyer system to lines of people herding onto an escalator. Lovely! Our journey ends, nominally, on a note of consumerism, with supermarkets, fast food chains and manufacturing plants. Cities filmed from above turn into printed circuit boards and we cut to a primitive cave painting. Beautiful.

Powaqqatsi, released in 1988, turns attention to the Southern Hemisphere and to South America, India and Africa and gives us a glimpse of the traditional cultures of the native people. We are witness to the daily toil in a gold mine in Brazil, villagers carrying water on their heads, people working the land to grow food, building boats and fishing the rivers and mankind living at one with the Earth. Around the halfway mark, however, the creeping of modern life starts to seep through the traditional idyll. More high rise buildings, more cars and trains, more dirt and more ANTS everywhere! Not quite as formidable, in my opinion, as its older brother, Powaqqatsi is still a brilliantly crafted warning about the encroachment of technology and industrialism in our lives. Powaqqatsi was also scored by Philip Glass and is a more organic score, (in keeping with the film itself) utilising voices, wind instruments and even guitars!

The two films are the first two parts of a trilogy, completed by Naqoyqatsi (released in 2002 but strangely missing from this release) which took Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass 20 years to complete. Although, one assumes Reggio was planning and preparing long before 1982, when Koyaanisqatsi was released. Still as relevant today as they were on initial release this pair of Qatsi’s are a hypnotic and fascinating look at our world through a different lens.



Arrow present the Qatsi pair on separate Blu-ray discs and the results are fantastic. Remembering that some of the footage in Koyaanisqatsi is stock, the image on both films is impressive. Grain is a loving bedfellow of film and here it looks perfectly natural. The picture is stable, colourful and detailed with no significant damage that I could see. Colours look natural and contrast is steady. There is an enhanced ECU (Extreme Close Up) in Koyaanisqatsi of, I think, the nose cone of a rocket crashing to Earth which pixelates somewhat but that effect is inherent in the original blowing up of the photographed image and so, should not detract from the, overall, fabulous look of the films.


We have a lossless stereo track and a DTS-HD 5.1 track for both films. Personally I think the lossless stereo track is perfectly adequate to convey what is required here but the 5.1 track is there if I ever feel the need. To my mind though, the original score was never meant for 5 (and a bit) speakers so I’m quite happy with the standard 2.0 mix. No dialogue, so no subtitles required.


The extras for this release are good but not great. Koyaanisqatsi gets an introduction from filmmaker and composer Gary Tarn. (No, I’ve never heard of him) There are two excellent and informative interviews with Reggio and Glass for each film in which they go into fascinating detail on the conception and production of the movies and their scores, their working relationship and general philosophies in life, which are great. I would have, as usual, liked a commentary for both films, especially considering how interesting and informative both Reggio and Glass are in their interviews. Anima Mundi is another Reggio/Glass collaboration and is, ostensibly, a short film about animal groups. Theatrical trailers and a booklet with new writings on the films complete the decent extras for this set.


While I personally favour Koyaanisqatsi over its younger brother Powaaqatsi, they are both powerful visual essays on our ever evolving planet and well worth a look if you enjoy this kind of experimental film-making. Complete with some great background interviews with the director and composer and even an extra short film, this is a very respectable package from Arrow.

Baz Hood

Updated: Jul 28, 2014

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