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335 of 362 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2002
The issue with the aspect ratio of the MGM DVDs of KOYAANISQATSI and POWAQQATSI has come up here and on the Amazon website, among other places. As a producer and technical advisor on the third Qatsi film, while I was not directly involved in the process of manufacturing these DVDs, I was well aware of the decision-making behind that process. I can say definitively that the 1:1.85 aspect ratio (letter-boxed) on the MGM DVDs accurately reflects the author's intentions and reproduces the original theatrical aspect ratio of the projected films.
KOYAANISQATSI and POWAQQATSI were both principally photographed in the 1980s, when widescreen television was a vague idea somewhere off in the future and a large picture tube was 27" across. While conceived as theatrical features, both films were shot with consideration of possible television broadcast, which at that time was almost exclusively full-frame 1:1.33 (4x3). The alternative to "protecting" for 4x3 by composing the image to work well in full frame would have been to "pan and scan" the widescreen image when transferred to videotape for home video release and TV broadcast.
I am sure that anyone who has seen KOYAANISQATSI and POWAQQATSI would agree the pan and scan approach would have yielded a ludicrous result for these films: for this reason when the films have been broadcast they are presented in the full "academy" aperture of 4x3, showing _more_of the original film frame than was shown in the theater. And when video transfers of the films were made prior to the MGM DVD they were also made 1:1.33. This reflected the conventional practice at the time, when very few films were transferred to video wide-screen.
However in the past few years there has been a markedly increased interest in wide-screen home video and the the technical means to display wide-screen video adequately in the home has become commonplace, arising chiefly from the popularity of larger displays. Reflecting this new environment the decision was taken now to release the films on DVD in their original 1:1.85 aspect ratio. I repeat that this image is exactly as originally intended by the director, Godfrey Reggio and the cinematographers.
I don't mean to imply that the 4x3 image in earlier transfers is somehow "invalid". I think this way of watching the films is very interesting.
It is a mark of how carefully crafted were these films that both ratios work very well. However, in no sense is the viewer of the MGM DVDs "losing" something by watching the films as they are shown as a motion picture, at 1.85, anymore than the audience was "missing something" watching the premier of KOYAANISQATSI at Radio City Music Hall in 1983.
Joe Beirne
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84 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2004
Everyone obviously has taste and opinion, but simply put, this is my favorite movie of all time (altho, as at least one other reviewer mentioned, not as powerful as the big screen). There is no film like it, except perhaps the Imax film Chronos (which is basically the eye candy with no substance) and possibly the sequel. But those are only similarities in style of filmmaking, not in quality.

But I will say, while it's my favorite movie, I can only stand to watch it about every 5 years, because for about 3-4 days after watching Koyaanisqatsi, I can barely deal with this society. It just makes me want to cry to drive on city streets.

So if you're already trying to come to grips with reality, this movie probably would be counter-productive. But for everybody who thinks everything about modern western civilization truly is "progress", I couldn't recommend this film enough.

What it will be for those people, is a priceless perspective adjustment. It won't make you permanently pessimistic or anything, it will just give you a new perspective.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
The first of Godfrey Reggio's finally finished trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi, is a visually-stunning non-narrative film depicting a life and world out of balance. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi word meaning one of five things: "crazy life, life in turmoil, life disintegrating, life out of balance, and a state of life that calls for another way of living." After watching this film, one will definitely see all five definitions painfully applicable.
Basically, the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the film has some wonderful shots of the desert, waterfalls, geologic formations, clouds billowing so close it's as if one's inside them, and aerial photography that makes one appreciate the landscape.
The rest of the movie then shows the human side. Caterpillar tractors lay out pipes, dotting the landscape with a network of electric towers, resembling wire framework travesties of men, power plants billowing steam and smoke smack in the middle of the desert, atomic tests in the desert, nuclear plants... abominations invading the environment. Rivers have been stopped by dams. And the military testing in the desert does nothing more than pollute the ground and air with explosions.
Switch over to the big city and the 12 lane highways, with its network of overpasses, byways, merging lanes, cars moving bumper to bumper, passing each other. Then we see the decrepit slums, abandoned projects, which are then blown up, slowly sinking to the ground in clouds of dust.
The time-lapse photography of people milling in line for subway tickets, eating, bowling, playing video games, etc. shows the city as the organism, streets, entrances and exits as blood vessels, humans as the blood cells. The night scenes of traffic, with white and red dashes zipping is very telling, as is the cycle of traffic going, stopping, going, stopping at each signal light. Later on, the speed of the film goes quicker, to demonstrate the quickening rate and insanity of human consumption, waste, and stress. Is this really worth living for, I ask you?
There are some images that are analogous. An aerial view of the concrete jungle, at what we've created, is replaced by an infrared satellite photo, then a closeup of a computer chip, showing the inputs going into multiplexers and demultiplexers, coming out as outputs. It shows how mechanized we have become compared to the more serene, less chaotic ways of nature, going in one way, going out through another. Another is a shot of sausages being cranked out, followed by people moving up escalators. Notice the similarity?
The most telling shots of the thousands of people in New York, Los Angeles, or San Francisco is that they don't look very happy at all, but for them, it's what they know, what they are, part of this mechanized, corporate world.
The translation of Hopi prophecies sung in the movie follow the conclusion, and they are sobering and chilling: "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster." "Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth through the sky." "A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."
Philip Glass's score, which alternates from frenetic synthesizers during the time-lapse footage and elegiac sobriety in the slo-mo shots, adds to this one-of-a-kind movie. However, this is best seen on the big screen for maximum impact.
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87 of 110 people found the following review helpful
on September 16, 2002
First, the good news: Koyaanisqatsi is finally available commercially in DVD format.
Next, the bad news: The film image has been CROPPED! "Enhanced", if you will, for widescreen TVs. The disc's case says, "16:9 WIDESCREEN 1.85:1 -- Theatrical release format." Bull ! I've seen Koyaanisqatsi in the theater and was immediately struck by the fact it was being projected in the standard 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio--not widescreen ! I'm no fan of pan-and-scan hatchet-jobs on widescreen films, but neither am I a fan of this equally reprehensible practice of cutting away significant portions of a film's top and bottom just so it will fit comfortably on somebody's new [expensive]16:9 50" plasma wall-set. Just as P&S deprives us of frequently vital side information, here we are deprived of the beauty of Ron Fricke's *full-screen* images. And, man, do things look cramped up there. Do I dare lay the blame on MGM, rather than on the Institute for Regional Education, which owns the film ? In any event, it's a pity, a real pity ! And a shame !
The other bad news is that the 5.1 soundtrack on this new disc is muffled, dull and lacking in definition and depth when compared to the privately-issued disc the IRE made available some time ago. Surround effects that were so obvious in the theater are nowhere to be heard here. I don't know if the IRE is still making their offer, now that this new MGM disc is in stores; but if you're a true Koyaanisqatsi devotee, and can ante up the money for a donation, my advice to you is to give it some *serious* consideration. It's absolutely worth it !
I'd really hoped this new release would be a dream-come-true, but now having viewed it, the only satisfaction I take is that I still have my private copy of the IRE disc...
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2004
Some of us are too young to remember just where we were when it was first announced that President Kennedy had been shot. But if you're near my age, you may remember quite well where you were when you first heard VAN HALEN's eponymous debut album in 1978. (I was riding in Al DiMente's Cougar.)

For those of us who were members in the "Disco Sucks" Club, it was like suddenly discovering The Holy Grail of rock guitar albums. Remember your jaw dropping open while hearing ERUPTION and wondering if it was really possible that this sound was emanating from a guitar and not a synthesizer? That album revolutionized the electric guitar in the context of rock 'n' roll. (Eddie "reinvented" the guitar according to Frank Zappa.) Of course, practically every hard rock guitarist since then has "borrowed" Van Halen's technique to the point that a 20-year-old hearing that recording for the first time today might say, "What's the big deal? This is nothing special." Little does our hypothetical "kid" know that THIS is where it all began.

The same could be said for Godfrey Reggio's, KOYAANISQATSI. When it first hit the theatres in 1983, it was truly a mind-blowing experience. I recall being absolutely dazzled, and dragging everybody I knew to that little theatre in West Los Angeles. In the following weeks, I must have seen it 8 times or more! The concept and the mesmerizing cinematography was as revolutionary as Eddie's guitar had been. In the ensuing 21 years, Reggio's cinematic style has been plagiarized to the point that a youngster viewing this film for the first time today might find it passe. But if "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", then KOYAANISQATSI occupies an honored position amongst the most highly regarded films in history. Of course, Reggio "remade" it a couple of times himself, but so many other filmmakers later copied his style. Not a day goes by that several commercials being shown on the boob tube don't obviously exhibit KOY's influence! But THIS was the progenitor, and it's STILL brilliant! I have often thought that one could pause this movie at any point and the image on the screen would almost always be suitable for framing and displaying.

Clips of clouds seemingly alive and on a caffeine & cayenne buzz; buildings imploding; freeway traffic taking on the appearance of blood coursing through arteries; society's underdogs lost and meandering through the metropolitan jungles; and the shot of exploded rocket residue tumbling through eternity. What did it all mean? KOYAANISQATSI has been described as everything from "socialist propaganda" to "a call for rediscovering God." It will appeal primarily to the person who is capable of comprehending symbolism and thinking abstractly. I'm not presumptuous enough to tell you how I think you ought to approach it, but as I stated in my Listmania Movie List: If KOYAANISQATSI doesn't get the gears turning up in your attic, then you, my friend, need to replace your cranial duracell!

This ain't no cartoon, folks; this is serious business! Don't expect to find yourself in a jovial mood after viewing this masterpiece of filmmaking. You should be pensive or locked-up. (Although the movie does contain a couple of humorous moments: If you don't think that a shot of endless wieners being conveyed through a meat processing plant juxtaposed with an endless stream of human beings conveyed via escalator is funny, "then you'd better not go to college.")

To this day, KOY is probably my all-time favorite film. The finest artistic achievements affect a person on both an emotional AND a cerebral level. KOY does that. Even all these years later, I cannot watch it without seeing the world differently for days or weeks afterwards. I think everybody should view this film at least once in their lifetime.

Even though Eddie Van Halen's guitar technique has been duplicated ad nauseam, he will be remembered as one of the very greatest because he did it FIRST. KOYAANISQATSI is far more meaningful to me because not only was it the first of its kind, but it packs a greater wallop than just lightning fingers tapping on a fretboard. Uh-oh! Although there is considerably more that I would like to express about this monumental film, I see that I have very nearly exhausted my allotment of letters, and so I guess I had better cut this review short now and just say goodb
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2005
Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word that means "life out of balance". Godfrey Reggio, the director, said he had to be talked into even giving the movie a word title. He, in fact, had to be talked out of giving it a symbol title (which probably has never been done in movies). He also made the movie without any spoken words, making it come straight at you without any supports, or carry on baggage. There is an energetic sound track from Phillip Glass which is really not a support either. It is explained in one of the DVD features that the viewer is to understand the film by entering into the space between the scenes and the music, which I thought was a very interesting concept. (By the way, be sure to visit the special features. They are highly informative about how the film came together).

Our planet is displayed to us as if we had come from outer space to see it for the first time. The film migrates from some truly astounding and spiritual nature shots in the first part of the film to hectic and sometimes disturbing civilization shots later in the film. We go from clouds, mountain, and oceans to big cities with lots of people, buildings, traffic, and machinery. Some of the film is speeded up to show the flow of clouds (that looks like the ocean) and the flow of traffic (that looks like arteries). Also, at times, the film is slowed down to study people and their faces as the try deal with the pace and density of things in the cities. Add to this the unique Phillip Glass sound track, and you get the full effect of the meaning of Koyaanisqatsi.

The Phillip Glass music is integral to the strange feel of the movie. He, of course, is the guru of Minimalist Music, which sounds to me roughly like a morph of Classic Rock with Classical music (maybe Baroque). It is repetitive, but in an engaging and powerful way, with enough variation to keep you into it - which is hard to envision if you have not heard his music before. I like it very much. Though it might not be for everybody, I think it really works for this movie.

I hope you enjoy this unique movie as much as I did.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 1999
Many years ago I passed up the chance to purchase a copy of KOYAANISQATSI. No money now, I can get it later...well, so I thought. Although seeing this film on video is a far cry from seeing it on the big screen, it is still an extraordinarily powerful and visionary piece of filmmaking. That this marvelous film is not "in print" is in my estimation a crime almost worthy of impeachment. Whoever holds the rights to this motion picture owes it to the viewing public to re-release it. It is too important a film to be kept in the cannister any longer. And now would be the time, with the newly released re-recording of the eerily effective Philip Glass soundtrack. Seeing this movie for the first time fourteen years ago was for me, as a previous reviewer named it, truly "an experience"--one that essentially transcended the very medium it was produced on. My must also express my long overdue thanks and gratitude to Godfrey Reggio, Ron Fricke, Philip Glass, and to producer Francis Ford Coppola. And to anyone who hasn't seen it, watch it if you have the chance. It is an unforgettable film experience.
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67 of 89 people found the following review helpful
on October 1, 2002
I've seen the "explanations" put forth by the spokespeople. They don't make sense. If you saw the film as originally presented, or, like me, you happened to own an old home video version of this film, you'd be outraged. The MGM/UA version of this film is hacked. The "letterboxing" is artificial. I could create quite a list of wonderful things you AREN'T SEEING in this DVD version because of the artificial black bars covering the top and bottom of the screen. This can't be right. I loved this film. The new MGM/UA DVD is just wrong. The single star is for this DVD version. I wish I could give the five stars this film deserves, but I can't. I can't watch the DVD because it ticks me off. I'll just fire up my ol' Laserdisc and see the WHOLE film. ...And wait for a full-screen version of the DVD to come out so I'd have to buy Koyaanisqatsi AGAIN.
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26 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2002
I love pushing peoples buttons, but I very much *dislike* spreading misinformation. Since my post of September 16, questioning the 1.85:1 aspect ratio of the new MGM DVD release of Koyaanisqatsi, a few people have written in to either contradict me or uphold me. Over the weekend, I sent an e-mail to the Institute for Regional Education in Santa Fe, requesting a first-hand clarification of the matter. I received a reply bright and early this morning (Sept. 30), e-signed by Joe Beirne, Producer, Naqoyqatsi. His reply won't award the blue ribbon in this debate to any one person, but each of us will receive a piece of it to take home. I summarize:
1) Koyaanisqatsi was always intended by director Godfrey Reggio, and the cinematographers, to be shown theatrically in 1.85:1 widescreen. This was the way it was shown at its premiere in 1983 at Radio City Music Hall, New York City.
2) The decision to create a 1.33:1 Academy aperture (4:3) version was made at the time of the *first telecast* on the grounds that a pan-and-scan approach would yield ludicrous results to the film on typical home sets of the time. Fortunately, the way Koyaanisqatsi was shot, they were able to "open up" the picture to full-television-screen size 4:3 (1.33:1), and every subsequent home video version was brought out employing that particular ratio.
3) With the improvements made in television sets in recent years, chiefly the rise in popularity of widescreen sets and the ability to display widescreen films adequately in the home, the decision was made this time around to take advantage of the new technology and bring out Koyaanisqatsi (and Powaqqatsi) in the aspect ratio in which they were meant to be viewed theatrically in the first place.
4) Which is the "correct" version? On that matter I will let Mr. Beirne himself speak:
"I don't mean to imply that the 4x3 image in earlier transfers is somehow 'invalid'. I think this way of watching the films is very interesting. It is a mark of how carefully crafted were these films that both ratios work very well. However, in no sense is the viewer of the MGM DVDs 'losing' something by watching the films as they are shown as a motion picture, at 1.85, anymore than the audience was 'missing something' watching the premier of KOYAANISQATSI at Radio City Music Hall in 1983."
I *hope* that settles this debate? BOTH home video versions of Koyaanisqatsi have the blessing the IRE as being equally valid. One last word from Mr. Beirne:
"PS The Private issue DVD is no longer available, sorry."
(My own PS and "last word" - I still prefer Koyaanisqatsi in 4:3)
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2006
The music from Philipp Glass is fantastic, for me it's 50% of the experience. For anyone who likes photography this will be a stunning movie. I have yet to meet someone who has not been impressed by this movie and wonder why it's not better known by the public. As the "life out of balance" comment suggest it also carry a strong message. While there are no dialogue, this is far from being an emotionless movie either. Of my close friend who watched it recently in my home, said it was of the 10 best movies he's seen. I had never though of comparing it with other movie because for me it's always been in it's own class.

A word on sound and image : to fully enjoy this movie you need two things : 1) a large, high definition screen 2) a superb, high end audio system (if you do not have one this I suggest using a headphone but not one of these wireless ones with bad acoustics). If you are lucky to have both the overall experience is likely to be better than watching it in a movie theater because the DVD was made from an original tape while the movies theaters are showing old, used tapes with plenty of glitches and the sound would be better too (if...).

There is one tune that seems to have been inspired by techno/transe...except that it was written before the musical genre existed at all...who copied whom ?

Philipp Glass made two follow up to this movie, Powaqqatsi, which is boring and where the music lack any interest and Nagoyqatsi which is very interesting as well, and is also lucky to have good music from Philipp Glass. Still Koyaanisqatsi's the best and the one to start with.
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