Koyaanisqatsi-Philip Glass (DVD-Audio) (1998) (NTSC)

If you create a user account, you can add your own review of this DVD

Released 6-Jan-2001

Cover Art

This review is sponsored by
BUY IT

Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Booklet
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-Original Film Stills
Discography
Notes-Credits
Easter Egg-Notes-Koyaanisqatsi
Notes
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 73:31
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Kurt Munkacsi
Michael Riesman
Studio
Distributor

Warner Vision
Starring Albert de Ruiter
Western Wind Vocal Ensemble
Philip Glass Ensemble
Michael Riesman
Case DVD-Audio Jewel
RPI $32.95 Music Philip Glass


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English MLP 96/24 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
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 in 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, 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.

    Of course, even before watching the film, I had already been introduced to the minimalist, repetitive nature of the music of Philip Glass. So I was already familiar with the soundtrack, so to speak. Nevertheless, the music haunted me - 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.

    People either love or hate the music of Philip Glass. Born in Baltimore in 1937, he studied at Julliard as well as with a number of musicians including Nadia Boulanger. He soon became famous, or infamous as some would have it, by composing music pieces characterised by their repetitive harmonic progression, extensive use of polyphonic arpeggios juxtaposed together to create complex rhythmic patterns, and significant use of electronics and synthesizers. His earlier works can be quite lengthy and demand patience as well as stamina - examples include Music In Twelve Parts (about 3 hours) as well as his first opera Einstein On The Beach (about four and a half hours). By the time Koyaanisqatsi was released in 1982, the idea of a film soundtrack composed by Glass that played nearly continuously for the entire length (nearly 90 minutes) did not sound so unusual any more.

    In any case, this film score must rank as one of Glass' more well-known and accessible works. Even so, when the original music soundtrack was released, the record label (Island Records - more used to releasing pop music than avant garde) decided to abbreviate the music down to just under 45 minutes to fit onto two sides of a long playing record. Glass for a number of years has tried to persuade those who hold the copyright to that recording to release a more comprehensive version of the soundtrack - to no avail.

    This, then, is a re-recording of the music score by the Philip Glass ensemble - including over half an hour of music never before available outside of the film - made to coincide with a tour of the ensemble in "live performances" of the film - concerts where the film is shown but with the soundtrack replaced by the ensemble performing live in front of the audience. I attended one such concert a few years ago at the Sydney Opera House, so it is with some joy that this work is now made available on DVD-Audio. Fans of the film and the music of course will need no persuading. For the rest of you, I would encourage you to at least to try this out - at least then you will know whether you fall into the "love it" or "hate it" camp.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Track Listing

1. Koyaanisqatsi
2. Organic
3. Cloudscape
4. Resource
5. Vessels
6. Pruit Igoe
7. The Grid
8. Prophecies

Transfer Quality

Video

    Like most of the Warner DVD-Audio discs released to date, the video content on this disc is in full frame NTSC and consists of a number of stills - textual and photographic. Surprisingly, the trailer for the film is also included as an extra. The stills and trailer have video transfers that are somewhat grainy (I sincerely hope this will not be the case when they finally release the DVD of the film but I suspect from watching the live performance several years ago that it will be).

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

Audio

    There are two audio tracks on this this: MLP 96/24 5.1 on the DVD-Audio portion of the disc and Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kb/s) on the DVD-Video portion of the disc. Note that the "Advanced Resolution Stereo" track promised on the DVD Audio cover is not actually present on disc. I listened to both tracks in their entirety. I also compared both tracks against the stereo version available on CD. I was somewhat disappointed that Warner has chosen not to include a high resolution stereo track on this disc - so those of you who prefer listening to music in stereo be warned.

    Both the multi-channel tracks sound quite impressive and deliver increased clarity and additional dynamics above the somewhat muffled (in comparison) CD version. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track in particular is very impressive and does not lose much in comparison to the MLP track, so if you don't have a DVD-Audio player you can still enjoy the superb sounding music in your DVD-Video player.

    The multi-channel mix is about halfway between conservative (ambience only in rear channels) and aggressive (instruments positioned across all channels) and works really well given the type of music. In general, instruments are positioned towards the front, but occasionally (voices in particular) are mixed to all channels to give an immersive effect and very occasionally directed to the rear speakers.

    Curiously, the music was not as bass heavy as I thought it might be, although the subwoofer is definitely put to good use, particularly in tracks 4 (Resource) and 6 (Pruit Igloe). However, The Grid for the most part wasn't the heart-pounding low frequency kick that I thought it might be, and on reflection I think this is an accurate reflection of how the music sounded when I attended the live performance, therefore I would commend the mixing engineer for showing remarkable restraint in the use of low frequencies.

    In summary, I would rate this disc quite highly in terms of sonics and musical fidelity, but it may not be "impressive" enough as a "demo disc" - which it was never intended to be.

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

Extras

    As is typical for other Warner DVD-Audio discs, the extras are mainly a set of textual and photographic stills with the exception of the inclusion of the film trailer. It remains to be seen whether we will see imaginative and extensive inclusion of extras on DVD-Audio (hmm - audio commentary on the music, perhaps, or a documentary showing how the songs were composed and recorded?).

Menu

    Full frame and static. The navigation to the surround music track follows standard Warner principles (the disc starts up at the Main menu, and pressing Enter twice will commence playback).

Booklet

    Apart from the trailer and the image stills from the film, all the textual information presented is also included in the booklet, so those of you who prefer to listen to the DVD-Audio without turning on your video display can rest assured that you are not missing out on much.

Theatrical Trailer (2:22)

    This is the trailer for the film, presented in pan & scan and Dolby Digital 2.0 (224 Kb/s).

Gallery-Original Film Stills

    This consists of eight stills taken from the film. I have a sneaking suspicion these pictures are meant to accompany the eight tracks on the album, but then someone decided not to.

Easter Egg-Notes-Koyaanisqatsi

    This is a single still (accessed when you click on the word Koyaanisqatsi in the main menu) providing some background information on the meaning of the word:

Ko.yaa.nis.qatsi (from the Hopi language), n. 1. Crazy life. 2. Life in turmoil. 3. Life disintegrating. 4. Life out of balance. 5. A state of life that calls for another way of living.

THE HOPI PROPHECIES

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 in the sky.

A container of ashes might one day be thrown
From the sky, which could burn the land
And boil the oceans.

Discography

    This is only available from the DVD Video portion of the disc, and provides three menus full of CDs featuring Philip Glass (Nonesuch catalogue only, discs in the extensive CBS/Sony catalogue are silently and commercially excluded). Each disc is featured on a still of its own with cover art and an accompanying critical quote.

Notes

    This is only available from the DVD Audio portion of the disc, and consists of 9 stills containing the text of the essay on Koyaanisqatsi by Tim Page (also included in the booklet).

Notes-Credits

    This consists of two stills providing the names of the musicians on the album, an abbreviated list of credits for the film (single still), and two stills crediting those involved in producing the DVD Audio. This information is also available in the accompanying booklet.

R4 vs R1

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

    This disc appears to be identically featured across all regions.

Summary

    Koyaanisqatsi as a DVD-Audio disc presents a re-recording of the original music score for the film remixed for surround sound. The audio quality is superb and the disc is worth purchasing if you like the music of Philip Glass.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Saturday, August 10, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, 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 AVR-3300
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Koyaanasqtatzi - John
John...... - Alex H (My biography...in 500 words or less!)
I've seen it too -