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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Greek, Hungarian, Dutch, Turkish
  Extras
  • 2 Theatrical trailer
  • Featurette - 20 min

Powaqqatsi

MGM/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 96 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Released five years after its famous predecessor, Godfrey Reggioís follow-up to the innovative Koyaanisqatsi would, you would expect, have enjoyed a large audience right from the outset. That wasnít the case back in 1988 when Powaqqatsi was released, though, and while the film reportedly didnít receive the wide publicity and distribution it deserved, what probably confused people more was the nature of this second film in what was, by this stage, planned to be a trilogy (the third, Naqoyqatsi, was finally completed and released in the US late last year). Unlike the first film, Powaqqatsi takes a much more considered view of its subject matter, taking its time illustrating places, people, moods and ideas rather than letting them rush out of the screen at breakneck speed. Itís an approach that makes sense - after all, the subject matter of this film is a lot less frantic. This time, the cameraís eye is largely on the peoples and cultures of the southern hemisphere - the way they live their lives without the assist of technology, and how that technology, so familiar and relied-upon to us, is inexorably finding its way into the lives of these people whether they like it or not. Not surprisingly, thereís political comment aplenty being made here, but as with the first film, Reggio leaves the viewer enough room to decide for themselves what the images theyíre seeing mean.

Ultimately, though, itís a less successful film than Koyaanisqatsi - there are certainly plenty of lovely images to gaze at, but something seems missing throughout here, something that was omnipresent in the first film. Here, the camera observes in much the way a travelogue would (though here itís largely in slow-motion), whereas in Koyaanisqatsi the composition of each image told a story all on its own, giving the film an emotional centre that seems somewhat lacking here. This is, perhaps, explained by the absence of cinematographer, editor and collaborator Ron Fricke; certainly his own Baraka (released in 1992) is loaded with resonating images that go beyond mere documentary.

The music, though, is absolutely stunning. Philip Glass is in top form throughout here, venturing into world music for the first time, but also experimenting with sparse electronics and, most successfully of all, some more conventional orchestral scoring thatís hauntingly atmospheric. It may not have the classic status and familiarity of his Koyaanisqatsi score, but itís most certainly more adventurous. The Anthem theme is slightly overused during the course of the film, but thatís a minor quibble.

Like its predecessor, this is a film - or, more accurately, an audio-visual symphony - that youíll want to sit in front of repeatedly. Perfect, in other words, for DVD.

  Video
Contract

MGMís Powaqqatsi disc is a much better visual proposition than Koyaanisqatsi. Thatís got a lot to do with the fact that all the footage in this film was shot especially for it (thereís no stock footage) and also that itís more than five years more recent, with all the advancements that brings. But the video transfer is also superior here, with vibrant colours and plenty of sharpness (without ever resorting to excessive edge enhancement), and a spot-on contrast range. The down side is some very noticeable grain on occasion (blame the filmmakers) and the odd bout of heavy pixelisation and other compression problems (blame MGMís encoder!). Itís interesting to note that these artefacts, which seem to often crop up on PAL MGM discs while their NTSC counterpart is just fine, are not present in the clips from the film shown during the interview extra on this disc.

Once again the movie and its extras are squeezed onto a single-layered disc, this time restricting the movie to a lower average bitrate due to its length. Considering the generally low data rate, there are surprisingly few problems outside of the typical MGM ďfuzzinessĒ.

The aspect ratio is the theatrical 1.85:1, and of course this transfer is 16:9 anamorphic.

  Audio
Contract

Like Koyaanisqatsi, this oneís had its audio time-compressed as well to correct its musical pitch on the PAL version - and thankfully this time the digital glitching that so often accompanies this process is mercifully rare. There are still a few segments where itís audible, but the nature of the music (and, perhaps, the nature of the mix) means there are fewer opportunities to hear the telltale (and annoying) signs of processing.

As youíd expect, directly comparing the DVD audio to the soundtrack CD reveals the pitch to be the same, but the DVD soundtrack to be running at a faster tempo.

The other good news is that quality-wise this oneís light years ahead of Koyaanisqatsi. Once again a 5.1 sound mix has been done - presumably based on the 4-channel mix that was the source for the Dolby Surround original, mixed by the legendary Gary Summers at Lucasfilm - and itís a very natural, immersive experience, without ever being overly flashy. Fidelity is excellent (though still not a patch on the CD) and all channels are used intelligently to create a real sense of space and ambience. A very good soundtrack, particularly so considering its 15-year age.

  Extras
Contract

The same comments about the inescapable end-of-movie copyright screens that we made last time applies here as well. But while weíre here, letís also mention that the MGM DVD logo at the top of the disc is WAY too loud, and Iíve got the spilt coffee to prove itÖ!

Featurette - Impact of Progress: A companion to the featurette on the Koyaanisqatsi disc, this 20-minute chat from Reggio and Glass is just as informative, illuminating and fascinating as the first one. One gets the feeling that these two would be the best kind of dinner guests - the ones that say lots of interesting things while you nod enthusiastically and get to keep eating...

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

  Overall  
Contract

A flawed but still essential ďsequelĒ to the compelling Koyaanisqatsi, Powaqqatsi takes longer to get a bead on - but itís ultimately very rewarding. Thankfully, the DVDís better in quality terms this time; what a shame that, as a full-priced single-disc release, it canít compete with the UK two-for-the-price-of-one pack.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2429
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      And I quote...
    "An audio-visual symphony that youíll want to sit in front of repeatedly. Perfect, in other words, for DVD."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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