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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Dutch, Turkish
  • 2 Theatrical trailer
  • Featurette - 25 min


MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 83 mins . G . PAL


Itís 20 years ago that a film made its way to cinemas and changed the way a lot of people looked at the world. It had no plot, no actors and no narrative structure, and yet it made perfect sense to most who viewed it - albeit a different kind of sense to each individual. Though it contained nothing but footage of real places, people and events (including an amount of stock footage), it was not a documentary; though it contained images that were informed by the music score, it wasnít a music video. Koyaanisqatsi was unique in being a feature length experience, one which not only could have a profound emotional impact, but which also became renowned as a really good movie to see while smoking things that most governments would prefer you, err, didnít.

Koyaanisqatsi was directed by Godfrey Reggio, a deeply religious man whose previous filmmaking experience had been in the world of ďpublic educationĒ films about the dangers of technology and the loss of individual privacy. That theme continues here to some extent, and while many have seen Koyaanisqatsi as a kind of honouring of all the high-tech things mankind has brought to the planet, itís quite likely the very opposite of that. The technology depicted here is often a scar on a previously organic landscape. The giant machine that is the urban world is depicted as precisely that, then shamelessly intercut with images of a sausage factory and a Twinkie production line. Are humans the sausages in the great machine of the large city? Are our cars really Twinkies? And is it coincidence that every time humankind is done with something, they seem to have a strong preference for blowing it up?

Believe it or not, these are questions some of those who watch this film might find themselves pondering (and before you ask, this disc was reviewed without the aid of any substances!) But others will see the same scenes in a completely different light; others will just see it all as visual poetry. Youíre never told what to think by Koyaanisqatsi. Itís entirely up to the perspective of the viewer.

Of course, the camera does have its own comment to make at times, as does the editing; the cinematography and much of the editing here is by the remarkable Ron Fricke, who nearly a decade later directed and shot Baraka. Just as with that later film, here Fricke knows the power of composition and what can be intimated by leaving an image on screen for an extended period of time. And the imagery throughout is remarkable and mesmerising, especially the extended Grid sequence.

Paired with Frickeís incredible images, Philip Glassís now-legendary score is perfect. Together, the images and music form a kind of full-sensory symphony that, just like a performance by an orchestra, can be interpreted emotionally by the audience in any way they may prefer.

Itís no surprise that Koyaanisqatsi is regarded as a modern cinema classic; even 20 years on, itís still possible to watch it and see things in it youíve never found before.


MGMís long-overdue DVD release of Koyaanisqatsi is offered at the theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio intended by its director and cinematographer, and is of course a 16:9 transfer. The main obstacle to pristine quality here is the source material; Reggio made use of a lot of stock footage and itís very, very obvious which material that is. Itís absolutely no problem artistically, by the way, and the film would be the poorer without it. But if youíre expecting some kind of miraculous restoration of old atomic bomb test footage or the 16mm film from the NASA archives, youíre dreaming.

Taking that into account, this is a good transfer that falls short of greatness only in the sharpness department, and we suspect thatís got more to do with MGMís video encoding than it does with the transfer itself; thereís certainly the usual tell-tale artefacts seen on PAL MGM discs here, though most normal people wonít notice. These same artefacts never appear on NTSC versions of MGM titles, which look consistently better most of the time. Maybe itís time MGMís PAL authoring team bought a decent encoderÖ!?


The movieís original release soundtrack was in matrixed Dolby Surround; for this new DVD version it gets a 5.1 remix, though in practice this just means a slight expansion into the rear channels and the diversion of low bass to the LFE channel. So far so good, though it bears remembering that there are sonic limitations here dictated by the recording and audio post-production facilities available at the time the film was made. Because there are sound effects and edited music cues to deal with, the audio has been remixed from the film sound stems, and these donít have the same fidelity as, say, the multitracks for Glassís score.

The main problem here, though, is not related to frequency response. Itís the fact that the audio has been time compressed in an effort to pitch-correct the music. Unfortunately, like with the infamous Fellowship of the Ring audio problems, the time compression software (or hardware) thatís been used here is sub-standard and not suitable for music. As a result there are clearly audible audio glitches throughout the film, particularly on sustained notes of particular pitches. In the case of this disc, the LFE channel is the worst-affected (thanks to the sustained notes from the organ) but there are problems in the other channels as well. Whether youíll hear them depends on how keen your ears are, but to this reviewerís ears it made the audio almost unlistenable at times. A real disappointment.


First, while weíre sending messages to MGM, a quick rant about our least favourite ďextraĒ on their discs. Itís the myriad copyright screens that appear after the movie. Sure, we see those all the time, right? Yep, but on MGM discs, the only way to escape having to sit through them all (and that can take a long time) is to eject the disc, or head for the menu before the end credits have rolled. Itís just bad authoring, plain and simple.

Secondly, Koyaanisqatsi is sold in its PAL version in other regions as a double pack that also includes the second film in this series, Powaqqatsi. In Australia, youíve got to buy them separately, each at full price. Thatís not only a bit rough on local consumers, but it also encourages importing. The fact that both films would easily have fit, with their extras, onto a dual-layered DVD bears mentioning as well.

Featurette - Essence of Life: This is terrific stuff - a 25 minute mini-documentary that sees Godfrey Reggio and Philip Glass waxing lyrical about Koyaanisqatsi and its creation. Both men are never less than fascinating, and have a lot to say about the film. We also get to see clips from Reggio and Frickeís early collaborations, though there is no ďbehind the scenesĒ footage (not surprisingly). This oneís in 16:9 format.

Trailers: The original theatrical trailers for Koyaanisqatsi (16:9 with mono sound) and Powaqqatsi (4:3 with stereo sound).


A breakthrough moment in the history of cinema and one of those must-see movies that everyone should experience at least once, Koyaanisqatsi is very welcome on DVD, but suffers from sub-standard video encoding and over-processed audio; as a result, fans of the film would be better served with a copy of the American NTSC version, which suffers from neither problem.

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      And I quote...
    "...a really good movie to see while smoking things that most governments would prefer you, err, didnít."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
    • Surrounds:
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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