Koyaanisqatsi (1983)

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Released 3-Mar-2003

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Featurette-Essence Of Life
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Powaqqatsi
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1983
Running Time 82:34
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Godfrey Reggio
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring None Given
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Philip Glass


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Auto Pan & Scan Encoded English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
German
French
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Hungarian
Greek
Turkish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    My first experience of Koyaanisqatsi the film was when I was still studying at university and was dragged along to the Valhalla in Glebe for a movie that was supposedly best experienced "stoned," "high," "drunk" or some other adjective describing the state of mind achieved after consuming certain substances (do mushrooms count I wonder?).

    What I saw changed my life and my view of the world. Shot without any overt plot or dialogue or conventional storyline, the film nevertheless carries a powerful message. The first third of the film seems like fluffy eye candy - consisting of time lapse sequences of canyons, clouds, waves on the sea, and so forth. Gradually, though, the focus of the film shifts to a study of mankind, urban life, technology, and our impact on the environment. The "portraits" of humans are the most touching for me - the blank looks of New York city pedestrians, the suspicious look of someone staring at the camera, the artificial smile of a Las Vegas waitress, the stern look of the jet fighter pilot... The last scene, featuring a failed NASA rocket launch is incredibly poignant - it juxtaposes mankind's impending expansion beyond the boundaries of the planet (new environments to exploit and destroy?) as well as the potential for failure and destruction when we stretch technology to its limits.

    Koyaanisqatsi quickly became an "underground" success and a cult movie, and eventually two "sequels" have been produced forming the "-qatsi" trilogy: Powaqqatsi (1988) and most recently Naqoyqatsi (2002). I haven't seen the latter, but I felt that Koyaanisqatsi as a film is superior to Powaqqatsi in terms of structure, content and impact. My desire to own this film was so great that I managed to get a friend to buy the UK PAL VHS video for me in the eighties, and it has been one of the films that I have eagerly awaited in the DVD format for a long time.

    Watching the film again on DVD brought forth new insights into the way Godfrey Reggio marries the spectacular and the commonplace, presenting both in a unique way. I felt like I was an alien that had just landed on an unknown planet in my spacecraft, observing the strange and wondrous going-ons until I realised it was my own planet! Both similar and opposing images are juxtaposed side by side: clouds segue into ocean waves, cars in a car yard resemble tanks on a battlefield, visions of skyscrapers contrast with slums and abandoned buildings, and aerial views of a city in false colours are compared with a microscopic view of a silicon chip.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a widescreen 1.85:1 transfer, 16x9 enhanced, corresponding to the intended aspect ratio based on the 35mm film source.

    From my memory of the last time I saw this film theatrically (a few years ago), the film print is by no means perfect, with poor black levels, mediocre contrast, faded colours and a moderate amount of grain, so I wasn't expecting a reference quality transfer, and I did not get it.

    There is a slight amount of telecine wobble during the opening credits. Contrast and black levels were even poorer than I remembered, however surprisingly grain was not as prominent as I feared it might be.

    The main issue I have with the transfer is persistent minor pixelization which 'softens' the picture too much for my liking. An example is the clouds around 12:05-12:16. Other video artefacts include aliasing on the electric cable around 19:06-19:22. There is also very slight edge enhancement. Finally, vertical pans seem a bit juddery.

    In contrast, my Region 1 copy does not exhibit pixelization and in addition seems to have slightly improved contrast. Colours also seem slightly more vibrant.

    There are a number of subtitles present, which is surprising for film with no dialogue: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Hungarian, Greek, and Turkish. The English subtitle track appears to be a silent one. The other subtitle tracks translate the text providing the definition of Koyaanisqatsi and quotes from Hopi Indian prophecies at the end of the film.

    This is a single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track: English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s).

    The audio transfer is about as mediocre as the video transfer. It is recorded at a relatively low level - I had to turn up the volume about +6dB. High frequencies seem a bit out of phase and unnatural, but low frequencies are reproduced reasonably well.

    The original Dolby Stereo soundtrack has been reasonably remixed into 5.1 surround. The surround speakers are mostly used for background music ambience, but are occasionally called upon for environmental noises to create an immersive surround stage - such as the crowd noise around 39:12-39:50. The centre channel mainly contains ambience and environmental noises as well - it is not used to carry the music.

    The subwoofer is lightly used to support the low frequencies in the music.

    Those of us who love the original music score for this film will know that it was composed by Philip Glass. This film score must rank as one of Glass's more well-known and accessible works. The music is hauntingly beautiful - particularly the deep, sepulchral voices chanting the word "Koyaanisqatsi" at the beginning (and the end), the manic energy of "The Grid" and the plaintive tones of the synth playing a slow set of arpeggios accompanying the rocket burning up in the atmosphere.

    In comparison, the Region 1 version seem to have slightly better defined audio.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    I suppose I should be thankful that we get some extras (particularly on a single layered disc), but a commentary track would have been nice.

Menu

    The menus are static but 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette-Essence Of Life (25:09)

    This is a retrospective documentary, curiously presented in 1.78:1 (16x9 enhanced) and with Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s) audio. It is also subtitled (with the same selection of tracks as for the main feature).

    The featurette includes excerpts from the film and interviews with Godfrey Reggio (director) and Philip Glass (composer). I was a bit annoyed that the film excerpts used in this featurette get a better transfer (sharper, and with more vibrant colours) than the main feature.

    Godfrey talks about his upbringing in a monastery, his inspirations, and his motivations for making the film. I liked the excerpts from the IRE privacy campaign short films, which are presented in 1.66:1 (mail-slotted). Philip also talks about the way he was inspired to compose the music, and his rationale for how the music matches the scenes.

Theatrical Trailer (2:17)

    This is presented in 1.85:1 (16x9 enhanced) and with Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s) audio.

Trailer-Powaqqatsi (2:05)

    This is presented in 1.33:1 (Pan & Scan?) and with Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s) audio.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    Region 1 wins mainly because it has superior audio and video transfers, plus one extra trailer.

Summary

    Koyaanisqatsi is a powerful and visual film that is a delight to watch. This cult classic has finally arrived on DVD.

    The video transfer quality is mediocre and somewhat pixelated.

    The audio transfer quality is also mediocre.

    Extras include trailers and a retrospective featurette.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Thursday, March 06, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DVD-RP82, using Component output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE (upgraded)
SpeakersFront and surrounds: B&W CDM7NT, front centre: B&W CDMCNT, surround backs: B&W DM601S2, subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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Comments (Add)
Audio pitch shifted? - Martin REPLY POSTED
Audio pitch shift - yeah, I can hear 'em too - garumph (read my bio)
Yet another rip off for Ozland - Anonymous