review by Zach B.
MPAA Rating: PG (For Viole And Disturbing Images, And For Brief Nudity)
Running Time: 89 minutes
Music by: Philip Glass
Written and Directed by: Godfrey Reggio
Retail Price: $29.99
Features: Life Is War, Music Of Naqoyqatsi: A Conversation with Philip Glass and Yo-Yo Ma, NYU Panel Discussion, Koyaanisqatsi Trailer, Powaqqatsi Trailer, Naqoyqasti Soundtrack Spot
Specs: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1, Fench Narration Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (11 Scenes)
Released: October 14th, 2003
Like the first two installments of the "qatsi" series, the latest and final film in one of the most fascinating film trilogies is hard to summarize. Like the amazing "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi," there isn't directly a story or a specific narrative to "Naqoyqatsi" - it's a film all about images, making messages and pointing out themes with these images all set to intriguing, wonderful and downright brilliant music by Philip Glass (the same way you could describe the first two movies too). However, "Naqoyqatsi" takes on perhaps a darker nature. It's been about fifteen years since the second film came out, and obviously in the past fifteen years a lot has changed in the world, and I believe "Naqoyqatsi" is trying to cover that. The title means "Life as war," and much of the images in the film deal with the technological and digital age which has just been growing and growing, and how it has been intertwined with our lives. There's also some bits on war itself, different parts of the world, celebrities, the media and money among other things.
The images in the film are amazing and fascinating to look at, but I must say the type of images shown and the style they are presented didn't remind me much of the first two movies - it almost feels as if "Naqoyqatsi" is a bit distant, or perhaps, more artifical version of the first films in the trilogy (you could call it the anti-"qatsi" even). The pacing of this third installment is much faster and crams down quite a lot - which just might be the point director Godfrey Reggio is trying to make how our current world runs and what it works with. This same point probably could go along with the images seen in the film - how so much of life doesn't exactly have to be "real" now and that we can create reality with technology, and people don't rely on as much natural stuff as they used to.
Still, "Naqoyqatsi" just doesn't feel like a natural fit to the first two movies. I do like what is presented in the film, but there is a lack of human images and exterior/nature images that made the first movie so intriguing. You won't find any sped-up images here really either - there's a lot of cutting back and forth between similar montages and then fade outs - sometimes things don't exactly go anywhere and end a bit abruptly. There's also a strong use of filters in this movie, which does get old pretty fast. Some of the stock footage is also stretched out to the film's frame, which is a bit annoying. I also noticed some images that aren't as distinct as others too and some of it is montonous or lack unique. I do have an analysis of that though for some instances, in that things change and get stronger but or more deadlier (such as the shots of the different soldiers), but maybe I am missing the point.
What I didn't like about the film either were the transistions - as I noted, it's really just a bunch of quick cuts - things were much more smooth, seamless and interesting in the first films. The film just seems to shove a variety of images (around 450 of them, apparently) down our throats to anything that may seem relatable or relevant. Even though the film apparently took over ten years to make, the thought behind how it all comes together just doesn't seem to be there. Except for the opening maybe, the images do seem pretty interchangeable for the most part. It's almost some of what's on screen is just tacked-on for the sake of being there. There is just too much snippets of things and too many collages, and not a lot of long, gradual shots of certain things that extends into other objects which is a key difference in how "Naqoyqatsi" differs. Why Reggio did this is beyond me, but I find it all a bit grating in how it doesn't exactly remain true to the series. In short, the film didn't touch me or evoke me as much as the first two did.
What makes "Naqoyqatsi" still a worthy film to me though is that due to how much it brings across during its runtime, you can look at things millions of different ways - some of the stuff is obvious, but anyone can have their own meaning to what is going on and perhaps, to the structure of the film. The world has certainly changed due largely in part to technology - it's amazing what we can do now through satellites, phonelines and what have you. The world, in part, can change things and break things up now in many different ways - for the better and certainly for the worst. There's a lot to take away from this movie depending on your viewpoint and what the current world means these days, but there's also some direct commentary and implications (Dolly the sheep, anyone?).
If there's something that hasn't changed though, it's Philip Glass. His score here, just like in the first two movies, is purely wonderful and fitting. Glass' music, as most of you should know, is critical to the series and how it overlaps with the images. His melodies, use of instruments and themes do work quite well and fit pretty well over the bustling of images. And while there are some familiar "qatsi" musical themes that come in, I must say that the music in this film, while excellent, isn't as integral as the first two movies. It does fit for the most part, however, at times, I guess I did feel some of the score was out of place. But still, it's what you hear for the entire movie and it does match up to what Glass did for the first two movies - it works, and I suppose it is hard to create some continuity when this film is pretty different from the two before it. On the plus side though, world renowned celloist Yo-Yo Ma contributes some very spiffy cello solos that accompany Glass' composistions.
The "qatsi" series hasn't been for everyone, and if you didn't like any (or both) of the first two installments, chances are this one won't change your mind. Chances are also good your typical moviegoer will find a film like "Naqoyqatsi" just plain weird and just won't get what it's all about. I know this film has polarized a lot of "qatsi" films - some love it, others downright hate it. Still, many do embrace the fact that it's just not like the first two movies nor as good as them. I do agree with that sentiment, however, I did like the film overall - even if it has its differences, there is still a lot to take from this movie and a lot of it is still interesting to watch. It probably is my least favorite of the "qatsi" films, but it still is quite good. If you're a fan of the series, I urge you to check it out and make your own judgements. Just go in expecting something a bit different.
"Naqoyqatsi" features a very strong 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that definitely impresses. While I noticed some of the images in the film are a bit wider than the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, much of the film is indeed in 1.78:1. This transfer is a bit hard to judge since some of the source materials do vary in quality - some are intentionally grainy, have marks on it and whatnot. Overall though, the image is pretty clean and sharp - there is some noise though, but it's not too big of a deal. There is also the slightest bit of edge enhancment that I doubt many people will notice. The colors look nice in the movie and stand out pretty strongly, while detail is fine as well as the black levels. This is a pretty outstanding transfer.
There isn't too much to say about the 5.1 Dolby Digital track - except for the chanting of "Naqoyqatsi" here and there the track is strictly music. The music obviously is a large in creating the atmosphere and this track does a pretty splendid job. The score from Philip Glass spreads out fully and with much passion throughout the spakers. Subwoofer use is decent but isn't as exciting as I would have liked it to me. The music sounds pretty clear and does sound quite full and layered - all the musical parts do come together quite well for a strong, well-rounded experience. Also included are English closed captions (yes, for the music cues) and a French Narration subtitle track which I couldn't exactly figure out.
It's not packed, but there are a few things to be noted on this release. First up is an introduction of sorts by executive producer Steven Soderbergh and director Godfrey Reggio Life Is War. Lasting a minute and a half and using clips from the film, those involved try to summarize what "Naqoyqatsi" is - the director himself, Reggio offers some strong insights.
The seven minute A Conversation with Philip Glass and Yo-Yo Ma is well worth a watch. Two respected composers and musicians sit down and talk about the work they've done on the movie and offer the insights on the music. The two get along well and come across quite intelligent. It's sorta self-congratulatory, but not in an obnoxious or annoying way. Glass points out he wanted this score to be a bit different in comparison to the first two movies, and how he knew Yo-Yo Ma's cello playing skills would fit well with what he was creating (they do). The two also tend to discuss the music coming together, how it stands out on its own even without the movie and how it fits with Reggio's film and what kind of music Reggio seeks. This is a casual and strong conversation, if slightly dense, but even though I think it's pretty interesting (if too short) it may not interest everyone.
The heart of the supplements though is the NYU Panel Discussion. Lasting a whopping fifty-four minutes, this panel discussion features director Godfrey Reggio, composer Philip Glass, editor Jon Kane and editor for the Art and Entertainment section for The New York Times, John Rockwell (who moderates the discussion). The questions asked here are strong and the filmmakers come across as insightful and intelligent, even if Reggio tends to dominate and goes on too long (Glass certainly looks a bit bored at times). Reggio discusses the origins of the "qatsi" name, why the series became a trilogy (I must agree with Glass' philosophies on trilogies) and the origins of doing "Naqoyiqatsi." Glass also discusses his beloved scores and working relationship with Reggio, and there's some focus on the third film's context and its style in comparison to the first two movies, among other topics. This is a pretty interesting discussion, especially if you're a fan of the first two films. I guess it does make up for a commentary, but it is a bit too much at times - Reggio is passionate, but he can be a bit boring since he rambles on and on and on. Still, there are some thoughtful anecdotes and stories here that I didn't know before, so it's worth watching to hear the history of the "qatsi" series. Oh, and there's some great product placement for Dasini water (I swear they didn't pay me to write that).
The rest is promotional stuff - Trailers in anamorphic widescreen for the first two movies in the trilogy - "Koyaanisqatsi" and "Powaqqatsi" as well as a somewhat cheesy Soundtrack Spot for "Naqoyqatsi." Oddly enough, no trailer for "Naqoyqatsi" - though one does exist.
"Naqoyqatsi" ends the "qatsi" trilogy, but goes out with a barely noticeable whimper instead of a beautiful bang. I liked the film overall, but I was just disappointed by it. If you own the first two movies on DVD (available from MGM) then surely you'll want to finish off the trilogy for the sake of it. While the price is a bit steep, the 5.1 track is good, the transfer is fine and there are some decent extras to find here. If you're a bit unsure though, a rental should do.