One of the things I love about having this site, is my ability to bring forth to the public truly great films that they may have never heard of. While Koyaanisqatsi (pronounced coy-on-is-cot-see) is the farthest thing from a horror film, it definitely fits neatly into the world of cult cinema. It's an incredibly mind-blowing cinematic experience and a film that I've been in love with for many years now. I was ecstatic to be able to pick it up recently (along with its sequel Powaqqatsi) on DVD. The big question to be answered is has MGM done this lost classic justice? Let's find out, shall we?
An art-house (and film school) favorite Koyaanisqatsi (Life out of Balance) is one of those rare, oddly fulfilling cinematic experiences that as wonderful as it may be simply put, defies description. I can't even remember how many times I was forced to watch this film in college (film school, yup), but I do know that it is one of the few films that was forced upon me that I truly did enjoy. Luckily we will no longer have to try to track down the elusive out of print video or laser disc as MGM has graciously brought forth onto DVD the mind bending visceral experience known only as… Koyaanisqatsi.
There is no story in this world. Well, that's not entirely true as there is a definite logical progression and there are ideas and thoughts transferred to the viewer. In a sense, the audience is taken on a bizarre journey as audio and images collide in a world that is both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. It does make sense and there is a reason for all of this. The viewer is just forced to find the answers on their own. OK, nuts to this, I'm through talking like the dungeon master (that's only in riddles for you outsiders) so here's the real deal.
Koyaanisqatsi is an incredible cinematic experience from start to finish plain and simple. There is no plot, no story, and no character development. Well not in the traditional sense of these things anyway. Basically a melding of images and audio Koyaanisqatsi gives us a fresh look at everything familiar until it ultimately becomes unfamiliar. The film starts out calm and cool with shots of nature and clouds, everything is peaceful in this world. The buildup takes us into the city as buildings explode, workers erupt into an 8-hour frenzy, factories are fully operational and the city is just plain busy. Life is exposed, but oddly enough it doesn't look like a life all to familiar, yet it is. The viewer is forced to confront of all things… life. From the sped up shots of a supermarket line, to the cool camera pan showing a family on a beach that slowly exposes the billowing smoke from a nuclear plant that seems less than a mile away. Confused yet? Well, that's because Koyaanisqatsi is a film that cannot be described or explained, it must be experienced. The film which was co-produced by Francis Ford Coppola (while the film's sequal, Powaqqatsi was co-produced by Coppola and George Lucas) is a must for the collection of any true fan of the cinema. The experience itself is mind numbing and hypnotic. It's certainly a film you're not likely to forget anytime soon.
Koyaanisqatsi is presented in an impressive yet controversial anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen transfer. The film itself looks pretty damn good. As a matter of fact it looks better than it ever had before. There is evidence of some light grain and some mild print damage but for the most part the transfer is quite clean. Colors are crisp and clean with nice definition and solid black levels. The actual aspect ratio is the true controversy. The film was projected theatrically at 1.85:1, but it is still unclear at this point as to the actual ratio it was shot for 1.33:1 (Full Frame) or 1.85:1. It would have been ideal if MGM had included the Full Frame film in addition to widescreen (as they have in the past) but alas, they chose not to. Framing does look a bit tight in certain scenes, yet the widescreen framing does add a more cinematic quality to the experience of watching Koyaanisqatsi on home video.
Audio is presented in a brand new Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and sounds astounding. I guess now is a good time to discuss the incredible score provided by Philip Glass. Just as important as the images, the score to Koyaanisqatsi is an integral part of the process. The new audio track is quite crisp and clear and there's no distortion here. Audio emanates from all speakers and at times nearly fills the room. It's subtle, but not too subtle, and when it's time for the power to kick in, it does. Also worth mentioning is the fact that MGM has included subtitles in French and Spanish. Considering the fact that barely a word is spoken, I'll just take it that the folks over at MGM have a wicked sense of humor (or a lot of free time on their hands).
Extras include a brief featurette that contains interviews with composer Philip Glass and director Godfrey Reggio, which runs about 25 minutes. Also included ate trailers for Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi and the soon to be released Naqoyqatsi.
If you're anything like me (then god help you) then you've probably been waiting for a reissue of Koyaanisqatsi and its equally impressive sequel Powaqqatsi. Luckily MGM has given us both at a discounted price and a neat little extras. Dig in and feel the goodness. I cannot recommend this film enough, but if it's your first time, be warned. You're either gonna leave this experience feeling like a new person, or wonder why you've been coming to Monsters at Play to read our opinions.