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Sujit R. Varma
Naqoyqatsi a visual mess and a disappointing closure to trilogy.
The lights went down in the movie theater, and I sank down in my seat anxious to give my complete and undivided attention over to the visual hypnotist, who twice previous has put me under and filled me with moving, profound visuals and awe-inspiring landscapes. My expectations were high, and they had every right to be, considering past trips our director has taken me on before. Philip Glass's music began - instantly recognizable. Coupled with the first few visuals - classic Reggio. Everything felt familiar, and I thought, once more here I am in for a real visual ride. Something novel, something adventurous, an evolution and a step up from where we had last left the "qatsi" series.
Yes, I knew beforehand going in to the film the overall colour and tone that a film on "war as a way of life" would and should have. Lots of greys and other dreary hues. Indeed, show me one frame in this 90-minute film with some colour in it. Yet, it is not the bleakness of the film's visual shade that had me consistently throughout the film slipping in and out of interest. My problem was with the irrelevancy of numerous images to the theme of what the translation of "Naqoyqatsi" is all about.
Rarely are we presented with any images pertaining to anything remotely concerned with warfare and the causes and effects of such. Brief, hazy shots near the end of the film arrive far too late for the viewer to want to consider and reflect upon these. Up till then, we are bombarded with an overwhelming array of visual distractions that either work to divert or numb our senses to the point of yawning indifference - that when the film finally arrives at its point, its promoted subject, that of "war as a way of life," the string of shots showing mushroom clouds, marching troops, and human suffering strangely seem tacked on as if they do not appear logically from their preceding images.
And herein lies the one major flaw of this film. There is no weaving thread connecting the shots smoothly together. It plays like a confusing collage of quickly cut montages scrambled up like a jigsaw puzzle that we the viewer are required to try and make sense of. Whereas "Koyaanisqatsi" consisted of recognizable logic from one image to the next, an arc if you will, where we are able to distinguish a beginning with an end (the cause and the effect), here we can define no order in the direction from image-to-image, we search for meaning in the many diversions and abstractions that are presented to us, and neither have the time nor the patience to find any - for swiftly the images roll by, a spate of such that overwhelms our minds to the point where often we find ourselves mentally tiring out, unable to keep up with the alarming pace of interconnecting/overlapping grainy and muddled visuals. (Some shots are so dark and cloudy I oftentimes found myself not even knowing what I was looking at.) Because the film is so neurotic in its imagery and so fuzzy to look at periodically throughout, we end up losing interest and caring about the film around the first 30 minutes in, that by the time Reggio delivers his anticipated visual payoffs, yes our attention is whisked back in, but are we at this point able to FEEL anything for what we are seeing?
The first two films of this trilogy were masterpieces, the two separate and unique from each other in both music and atmosphere, with a director whose passion for his project truly manifested itself on screen in the many natural wonders and exotic settings he captured. Here, Reggio takes the easy way out, in ironically using a slew of computer-generated visual effects to achieve a handful of dazzling creations (not to be missed) that previously he physically would have sought out Creation itself for. Perhaps he's getting tired, for I felt his heart just wasn't in this film like it was the previous two chapters. Perhaps this installment was brought about into existence only out of a sense of duty - an obligation in completing a pre-ordained trilogy.
In "Powaqqatsi" he let his camera pause and study - scenery, faces, human actions - which allowed us the time to gaze, ponder and reflect. We observed and we contemplated. There is no opportunity for that here. The countless shots (450 of them) rush along and bury our concentration under its suffocating heap.
This commentary compared to the first two, falls surprisingly flat. All the abstractions and digital code become tedious and tiresome after a while. The whole point of such flashy trickery ought to be to stir the audience to feeling, not stultify them and make them indifferent to the images they see.
Like witnessing a dream where the images just do not logically connect and make sense, I was only pleased to awaken from this film with an anxious awaiting to do so all throughout the confusion. To stand up, stretch, and step back into a universe where the 6 pm news possesses more of the "Naqoyqatsi" theme than this film does. The visuals here do not correlate with each other; there's murkiness, there's quirky doctoring of images, there's distortion. It all comes down to chaos, and perhaps this is to be taken as a metaphor in defining our times. In which case, in rating this film I could well in fact be rating the world we live in. Perhaps then, Reggio's final installment achieves its aim afterall - in the aggressive use of a technologically-armed visual attack that we are only too anxious to want to question in the end.
Koyaanisqatsi Rating Out Of Ten : 10.
Powaqqatisi Rating Out Of Ten : 9.
Naqoyqatsi Rating Out Of Ten : 5.
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