Powaqqatsi (1988)

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Released 5-Mar-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary Featurette-Impact Of Progress
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 95:39
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Godfrey Reggio

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
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    After the cult success of Koyaanisqatsi, it seems natural that there would have been a sequel, and when I first heard that Powaqqatsi was being made I got extremely excited and couldn't wait to see it at the cinemas.

    It seems strange, but the wondrous images in the first film were almost entirely shot in the continental United States (apart from some stock footage), and even more to the point, the majority of the shots were captured in about four or five key locations: Grand Canyon, Arizona, New York City, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. With this film (presumably with a much bigger budget), the focus shifts to a variety of locations around the world - including Asia, India, Africa, the Middle East and South America. The focus is very much on the people, culture, religion and landscapes of the Third World.

    A lot of Koyaanisqatsi is about how man and technology has totally transformed the environment in which he lives. Powaqqatsi seems to be documenting man in the process of changing the environment around him, and how the environment affects him.

    The beginning of the film seem to portray humans in vast numbers engaging in ant-like manual labour - a trail of workers carrying bags full of earth in an open cut mine (the Serra Pelada in Brazil), various people transporting stuff from one place to another like beasts of burden, then segues into lots of spectacular aerial photography of farms and communities.

    The visual images in this film are probably not as familiar to those of us who live in a "modern" civilization, and therefore the exotic scenery and people generate awe and wonder, but as a whole I did not find this find as profoundly satisfying as Koyaanisqatsi. Much of the film is simply eye candy - there wasn't the underlying message of potential doom and apocalypse that created a lot of tension in the first film. The music also seems less well matched to the film - it follows a similar pattern to the previous film in building up to a frenzied climax and yet the images seem somewhat lethargic and random.

    This film features the same director/writer (Godfrey Reggio) and music composer (Philip Glass) as the previous film, but sadly Ron Fricke was no longer involved. I really missed the interesting camera angles that he uses, and to me the visual images in this film are not as arresting as the previous one.

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Transfer Quality


    This is a widescreen 1.85:1 transfer, 16x9 enhanced, corresponding to the intended aspect ratio based on the 35mm film source. There is automatic Pan & Scan information encoded, which means you can watch it in 1.33:1 if you really want, and have the DVD player decide which bits on the left and right of the frame to chop off.

     This transfer is noticeably better than that for Koyaanisqatsi, mainly because the film is newer (and hence the print is in better condition), but also because I did not notice as many compression artefacts.

    Detail levels are good, and colour saturation is acceptable. There is a slight trace of grain, and minor amounts of edge enhancement. The film source is relatively clean, although I noticed a fairly large film mark around 83:34.

    Compression artefacts include pixelization (although not as severe as on Koyaanisqatsi) and Gibb's effect ringing. There is also minor posterization during the sunrise around 7:24-7:34.

    In contrast, the Region 1 transfer seems to have slightly more vibrant colours but seems to suffer from more Gibb's effect ringing.

    There are a number of subtitles present, which is surprising for a 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 Powaqqatsi and quotes from Hopi Indian prophecies at the end of the film.

    This is a single sided single layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


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

    Given that the original soundtrack for this film was in Dolby Stereo, I was pleasantly surprised that it seems to have been remixed into 5.1. The surround rears appear to be well utilized for music and also ambience noises.

    The audio track sounded quite pleasant until I compared it with the CD soundtrack and then it sounded somewhat flat and lacking in dynamics. Still, it was good to hear the rather percussive and ethnic sounding music score by Philip Glass in surround.

    In comparison, the R1 sounded slightly deeper and fuller in body but still lacking compared to the CD soundtrack.

    The subwoofer is lightly used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    This DVD features very similar extras to those found on the Koyaanisqatsi DVD (i.e. not much).


    The menus are static but 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette - Impact Of Progress (19:55)

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

    The featurette looks very similar to the "Essence of Life" featurette included on the Koyaanisqatsi DVD and may have been shot at the same time. It includes excerpts from the film and interviews with Godfrey Reggio (director) and Philip Glass (composer).

    Godfrey and Philip compare the making of this film to the previous one. Godfrey seems to imply that the message behind Powaqqatsi is the exploitation of the Third World through aid provided by developed countries. He also mentions that this film is about the Southern Hemisphere, whereas the first film was about the Northern Hemisphere. I found this a bit difficult to swallow, since many of the scenes in this film were captured in the Northern Hemisphere (Hong Kong, India, Africa, ...)

   Godfrey and Philip also talk briefly about the upcoming conclusion to the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05)

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

Trailer-Koyaanisqatsi (2:17)

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

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 narrowly.


    Powaqqatsi is the less successful sequel to Koyaanisqatsi.

    The video transfer quality is mediocre but acceptable.

    The audio transfer quality is also mediocre.

    Extras include trailers and a retrospective featurette.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Monday, March 17, 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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