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Reviews & Ratings for
Koyaanisqatsi More at IMDbPro »

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Dark room, Big TV and Hi Fi need only apply...

Author: Tim Kidner ( from Salisbury, United Kingdom
7 May 2012

Koyaanisqatsi contains and unreels some of the most breathtaking images ever committed to celluloid. Translated from the Hopi language, the title means 'life out of balance' and attempts - and very successfully - shows all of man's manifestations, usually in startling close-up but also often sped-up, juxtaposed against our own-made surroundings.

Since Dziga Vertov's 1928 Russian experimental film "Man with a Movie Camera", a few pioneering directors have attempted to show familiar, and not so familiar surroundings in a new and refreshing way. But none so much as the collaboration here between Godfrey Reggio and contemporary composer Philip Glass.

The images are always hypnotic, some unearthly beautiful and when it slowed to its climax, I was so disappointed it had finished. The comparisons between printed circuit boards to conveyor belt manufacturing to highly urbanised street scenes are magical and compulsive. Watch on the biggest screen you can and play the sound through a separate hi-fi or home cinema system.

Glass' music follows and resonates with these streams of visuals - one is the other. With executive producers Francis Ford Copolla and George Lucas, both mega directors of their day, this project had some heavyweight backing.

Koyaanisqatsi was followed by the not-quite-as-compulsive Powaqqatsi which has a different take on human activity.

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Amazing, Beautiful Representation of Our World in Action

Author: Sean Lamberger from Bradenton, FL
6 April 2012

A mesmerizing stream of photography, sans-narration, set to an unforgettable score. Breathtakingly composed, it's like a guided tour of a master photog's personal portfolio, with lingering still shots mingling beautifully with their moving brethren. High-shutter landscape panoramas, silencing animated time-lapses and fast paced long-exposure peeks at civilization effectively capture the wonderful beauty we take for granted every day. A fantastically matched, epic-scale soundtrack by Philip Glass bumps it up yet another level, providing backbone and structure where it's most desperately needed. Midway through the picture, I was surprised to realize that I was thinking more during this sequence of mildly-related compositions than I ever had during a more traditional film. It's a stunner, something I can throw on at any time, in the middle of any chapter, and enjoy without hesitation. Pure beauty that's even more impressive considering its age, it's worth adding to any HD library.

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Fantasia of the Real World

Author: gerberzy from United States
13 February 2012

Two words come to mind after watching Koyaanisqatsi; Hypnotic and Horrifying. Shots of normal people simply walking down the street were altered into a raw and eerie moment due to the slow motion. There are scenes and certain shots that will probably vanish from my memory (including a haunting shot of a pilot in front of his jet, slowly and methodically zooming in). Before watching the film I knew what I was getting in to, which may have helped, but I thought that 90 minutes may be too long but he film went by quicker than I thought it would've. I easily recommend this film and even if you don't end up liking it, it won't be wasted time. Koyaanisqatsi is the Fantasia of the modern world...a haunting world.

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A history of violence on nature

Author: tomgillespie2002 from United Kingdom
5 September 2011

Godfrey Reggio's film uses only images and music to portray it's meaning. There is no dialogue, and no narrator occupies the films space. The juxtaposition of music and image create a message, which is a quite obvious environmental one. We are shown the natural world, and also the products of civilisation, the man-made world of industry. Philip Glass's rapturous score uses signifiers to exacerbate the meaning, and the opinion of the film maker. The sequences of natural spaces are imagined musically with delicate symphonies, passages of beauty. The unnatural world has bellicose strokes, dramatic and dark; occasionally lamentable.

We are shown natural landscapes of America, its mountainous places littered with cavernous hallways cut through its heart. Aerial shots glide over pastures, deep valleys, mountain ranges. Cities shot in time- lapse, rise from the water, cities cutting into the sky, reflecting the moving clouds, but denying it's reality by distorting it, making it constructed. Cities at night, streams of light slither through the roads cutting into the buildings, towering. This is where the message of the film falters. I saw the similarities with the streaming lights of motor vehicles through a night time city, are much like the aerial shots that manoeuvre over the valleys sculpted by the movement of water, long since dried up. We are therefore seeing in nature its own self destruction.

The city also becomes derelict, "left-for-dead". Once natural landscapes raped by construction, abandoned, useless, left for decay. People occupy only a short time in the film. We see crowds clogging the streets, hundreds of anonymous faces, public buildings see the scuffling of existential nothingness. Fire and nuclear explosions signal man's devoted exploration of destruction.

The film is undeniably beautiful. Even the man-made edifices, that we are supposed to find repugnant in the context of the film, are often gorgeous. In one shot (the longest single shot in the film) we begin to see on the horizon a Boeing 747 moving slowly towards the camera, the plane ripples in the heat distortion emanating from the hot tarmac.

The title is taken from the Hopi language, and is translated as meaning "life out of balance". So the meaning of the film is quite clear. Mans destruction of nature. As stated before, the meaning is dissipated by the beauty of each opposing image. But aside from this it is nice to watch. And the music alone is wonderful. It could be seen to be a history of violence on nature.

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Very impressive documentary

Author: haterofcrap from Spain
14 July 2011

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This poignant and magnificent documentary is one of the most fascinating and beautiful film ever made: Unlike many documentaries that came before this, "Koyaanisqatsi" doesn't use any kind of dialogue or narration to express the point of view of the director: Instead of that, we are only show several scenes from nature and every day life, with the excellent music of Phillip Glass as backdrop for all the beauty, horror and strangeness presented in this movie.

At first, I thought this movie was somewhat tedious and weird, but now I could appreciate more the unique, fascinating nature of this movie, where no words are needed to express how great, and yet, how terrible is the reality of this planet. Also, unlike the narcissistic trash made by Terence Malick this movie has a real point (And also, It is not endless and tedious as the movies made by Malick) "Koyaanisqatsi" is a great documentary, and it was the beginning of an incredible trilogy.

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You just have to see it

Author: tnrcooper from Korea
1 May 2011

The scariest thing about this film is that it was filmed 30 years ago. Things have gotten much worse in many of the areas about which legendary filmmaker Godfrey Reggio was concerned at that time. The film is a series of time lapse and extended shots of scenes of industrial overuse, of nature, of worn-out people, and of the industrial processes which make much of western society turn, among other things. To my way of thinking, the film is a critique of the forces which have led us to rely on many of the processes which we see in the picture and which leave people shown in the movie in the rush that they are in. I found it a piercing critique of our modern way of life.

The shots of people are invariably of them hurrying en masse somewhere. There are some very (at least to me) moving shots of abandoned apartment buildings. The shots of Monument Valley in Utah are also very beautiful. The music by the legendary Phillip Glass is amazing. The combination of the time-lapse photography and Glass' score is moving. Because there is no speaking at all throughout the movie, it's hard to imagine the film without Glass' score. I saw this on my Mac, which is 14" wide and it was impressive. Seeing it on the big-screen would be mindblowing, I'm sure.

I really can't recommend this film highly enough.

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Beautiful and Hypnotic Tale About an Unbalanced Life

Author: Rodrigo Amaro ( from São Paulo, Brazil
13 November 2010

"Koyaanisqatsi" is the first installment of a trilogy about life versus progress and associated things directed by the great Godfrey Reggio, without using words, dialogs and with no plot. This a documentary filled with beautiful images, sometimes impressively strange but very real, synchronized with the marvelous music composed by Philip Glass.

Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian term that means "life out of balance" and what we see in this film is thousands of images of the world as we know it and throughout them we are invited to take a meditation about their meaning. In the first 15 minutes all we see is the real nature, trees, oceans, deserts, everything untouched by the human being, at peace, quiet. When bombs start to explode throwing away lots of dirt of a mine and a haunting truck appears that peaceful world seemed to change. And then technology appears, many good and bad things start to happen leaving our life less hard sometimes but totally out of balance, stressed, unfulfilled, empty, desperate. And all of that is captured by the director who uses slow motion images, fast images that resembles a video clip (Grace Jones and The Strokes used images from this film to include in their works), all presented beautifully and in great symmetry with Philip Glass's music.

I'll leave these thoughts and opinions with you but whatever the view you'll have on this film is valid. The best thing you can do is just sit back, watch, enjoy and think about it. Reggio trained to be a monk and spent 14 years in complete silence and praying and when he finally left this condition he was able to make this wonderful film and its sequels, therefore, here's a man who understands that films don't necessary needs dialogs and a plot to show a message, and he's krafty enough to give that to audiences (of course, not if you consider the same audiences that enjoy slapstick comedies or action films, they'll probably hate this movie).

And we must consider that besides Kubrick's experience in some chapters of "2001: A Space Odyssey" this is a pioneering experience back in the 1980's, telling something beyond narrative, almost wordless (the only voices you'll hear comes from the choir singing in Glass's musics and the word "Koyaanisqatsi" also presented in the music). It is very hypnotizing and incredible. And despite being made in 1982 (actually more longer considering that the project begun in 1977) it's not a dated film and it's very plausible for any generation.

For those who enjoy new filmmaking experiences this is a must see and watch the sequels "Powaqqatsi" (1988) and "Naqoyqatsi" (2002) (which I also reviewed). I believe that Reggio and Glass should re-team for a fourth installment due to a common and recurring theme of our days that is well discussed: the global warming effects in our society caused by the evolution of societies and the technology. The director could go back to the same places he filmed in "Koyaanisqatsi" and other places too and show how things got worse and we as audience could make an comparison between society and different times, to have a new perspective on things and to proof (again) that evolution also comes to destroy mankind while we're still getting on our positive way, taking one step ahead and walking back another ten steps.

At the end of the film there's the Hopi prophecy and one of the things it is said there is this: "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." How close are we of this scenario? 10/10

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quite simply one of the greatest movies of all time

Author: ad1mt from United Kingdom
12 November 2010

quite simply one of the greatest movies of all time.

a unique work that created a genre of its own, and has been imitated since but never equalled or bettered.

part documentary, part roller-coaster ride, with music from Phillip Glass that is probably the best he has done, and one of the greatest movie scores of all time.

always appears in my top 10 favourite movies, and appears at my no.1 position more often than any other movie.

try to get hold of the full-frame IRE edition, rather than the inferior, butchered MGM "widescreen" version which in many scenes has important parts of the composition cropped out. the soundtrack is better quality too.

there have been countless scenes & ideas stolen from this for use in TV ads and other movies.

when a movie is as great *and* unique as this, words cannot really express the experience adequately, you just *have* to watch it.

to quote the guardian (a UK newspaper), "an unqualified masterpiece".

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An astonishing movie

Author: patf-3 from SF East Bay, CA, US.
6 September 2010

Several generations - world-wide - have come to think in terms of the images that this film created, and, as is so often the case, they're mostly unaware of it.

Thinking in terms of an image is not a contradiction.


Actually, that's all, at least at the moment, that I was inspired to write, however IMDb's auto-editing (which for the most part I'm impressed with) tells me that posts must be a minimum of 10 lines.

One could write almost endlessly about Koyaanisqatsi and there must be PHD theses devoted to the subject. It's interesting to consider that many words have (probably) been devoted to a film with no words. Part of the wonder.

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Wow, what can I say?

Author: mkm-hermanjnr from United Kingdom
3 September 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I'm usually not a big fan of "arty" films, and while I consider myself environmentally thoughtful, I also detest being bombarded with long "eco-lectures".

This film doesn't lecture, it doesn't preach, and it isn't pretentious. It just poses fascinating questions and really provokes some interesting questions.

While we see plenty of nature and the opposite industrial expansion of man, especially early on, the film features no dialogue.

There is no disembodied voice ranting about CO2 emissions, or strip mining. No voice actor is telling us to feel bad. We are left to judge for ourselves what we believe is acceptable use of the environment, and the film celebrates the achievements of man as much as it criticises them.

The film travels through many different emotions as the scenes change. In some a sense of awe is given, in others we see daily scenes of life at much greater than normal speed. Watching countless people march to work and go home again at breakneck speed, and cars being infinitely assembled on a line raises so many questions I never usually pause to think of.

What's the goal of humanity? Beyond cash, why do attend jobs as we do? Why does society exist as it does? One scene showed a homeless man struggling to count change in his hand, and as he sadly looked at the camera, I wondered how his life had become like that.

Towards the end of the film, there is a strangely poignant moment as a broken rocket crumbles to Earth like a fiery meteor. Complemented by a soundtrack that fits perfectly, it seems to spiral downwards forever, a moment that inexplicably sends shivers down my spine.

I highly recommend this film, it is intriguing even for it's unusual filmography. When you start musing about the themes it poses, it gets even better, and yet it manages to avoid telling you what to think.

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