Koyaanisqatsi (1982) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
223 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Wonderful Experimental Documentary
razwee10 May 2004
Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi (1983) is a film with no actors, no storyline, and no dialogue. The only things we see during the experimental documentary's 87 minutes are natural landscapes, images of cities, and real people going about their regular lives. Yet from the very beginning, when we see the title of the film appear in blood-red characters and hear the voice of a bass soloist chanting the title like an incantation, it is difficult not to be swept away in captivation.

Filmed between 1977 and 1982, Reggio's film was noticed by directing great Francis Ford Coppola who eventually agreed to finance the project and give it chances for distribution. Minimalist composer Philip Glass was optioned to compose the score, and the result was, quite simply, astounding.

Koyaanisqatsi is a collection of familiar images presented through tinted lenses (figuratively speaking). The experimental nature of the project can be seen in the reduced and augmented speeds of images, the use of carefully manipulated edits, and the use of Glass's score to create ambience. There are times when the film exhibits an almost surreal quality more indicative of a twisted, futuristic, dystopian sci-fi epic than of our mundane world.

This is, however, what makes Koyaanisqatsi so successful. In presenting our world in a disquieting, unflattering light, the film forces us to ruminate on our place in the universe and the consequences of many of our actions. The film starts with serene, austere images of mountains, oceans, and forests, and the repetitiveness of Glass's score does not bore us nor call attention to itself, but simply washes over us, entrancing us and instilling a sense of tranquility.

It is not long before the untainted images are replaced by nuclear power plants, highways, skyscrapers, rubble, fire and ash, and hoards of ant-like beings (humans, of course) scurrying through modern urbanity. Most times, humans are filmed at low-frame settings (making for faster speeds), and as a result, they seem frenzied, compulsively making their way through the cities in a manner that seems more conditioned than voluntary.

Glass's score responds by heightening its tension and adding a semi-brutal nature to its repetitiveness. It is somewhat aversive, but at the same time exhibits a humorous and mocking quality. By cramming together so many images of humans behaving more like lab rats than higher, thinking beings and increasing the satirical nature of the score, the film invites us to consider just how depersonalized, mechanized, and out-of-control many aspects of our life are.

The conclusion of the film contrasts against the blackly comic nature of the previous section by instilling a sense of mourning and warning. As such, there is undoubtedly a political and environmental component inherent in this film, but this is the aspect that is, in my mind, most often misunderstood. Many critics (mostly detractors) have interpreted Koyaanisqatsi as a call to action, an invective that demands that we atone for the rape-like pillaging the human race has thrusted upon the natural environment. Following from this, these critics claim that the film's message is that we would enjoy the planet more if we were not here at all, thus presenting a contradiction, since we would not be here to enjoy it.

In my own personal view, the flaw here resides in viewing the film as a tirade and a call to action. I find Koyaanisqatsi very clearly to be not a cry for reform, but a demand for awareness and meditation. There is an inevitability in the actions of human beings and their disregard for the care of their surroundings, and the wonderful thing about this film is that it forces you to experience the consequences and at least take notice of what each of us is contributing. It does not let you get away with indifference and nonchalance.

For me, however, the political component is less important than the stylistic component, which is one near and dear to my heart: the use of music to enhance the forcefulness of images. I acknowledge the fact that some will not be able to stand the repetitiveness of Philip Glass's score (and it is very repetitive at some points). But if one can consider the motive behind the repetition, the music ceases to be oppressive and becomes sublime and entrancing. The score adds impact to an already stunning array of unforgettable images, the details of which I will not go into, so that one may see the film with fresh eyes.

I saw Koyaanisqatsi for the first time at a performance in which the visuals were projected onto a giant screen with the soundtrack being supplied by Glass and his ensemble, who had come for a live performance. I had barely made it in time, since I struggled to find a parking space and was drenched from running in the rain. The moment the film started, however, all of the accumulated tensions in my body completely dissipated. It was not at all a cerebral experience, but an instinctive one in which I enjoyed the images and sounds for their own sakes.

When I left the performance, I was in a hypnotic daze, transfixed by what I had just seen. My initial impressions haven't changed to this day. I loved this film, and while the political and environmental concerns it addresses are important, what really makes this film for me is the instinctive, visceral power of its images and sounds. Koyaanisqatsi maroons its audience in an alternate version of reality that sheds disturbing light on our lives, and yet at the same time, it produces an unforgettable cinematic experience that is pervasively engrossing.
223 out of 237 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A cinematic tour de force
desh7922 November 2005
"It is up for the viewer to take for herself what Koyanisqaatsi means. For some people it's an environmental film, for some people it's an ode to technology, for some people it's a piece of sh-t, for other people it moves them deeply. It depends on who you ask" - Godfrey Reggio

So, Koyanisqaatsi. Boring junk to some, an involving masterpiece to others, and God knows what other adjective-noun combinations are out there (you can probably guess my opinion from the rating above). Most of these descriptions are fairly subjective, but it would definitely be wrong to regard Koyanisqaatsi as anti-cinema. It is anything but. Cinema, in its purest form, is a marriage of sound and visuals; everything else is just decoration. Dialogue? Storyline? Koyanisqaatsi harks back to an age when cinema was simply a filmed record of a situation. Was it not the Lumiere brothers who are generally regarded as the first pioneers of cinema? And is it not the case that their films comprised of nothing more than situations like a couple feeding their baby, workers leaving a factory, or the (in)famous Train Leaving A Station, which went down in folklore as causing people to flee the auditorium in panic thinking they were about to be hit by a train as it approached them on-screen? Koyanisqaatsi is cinema returning to its roots, to the days when the possibilities for film as an art form were wide open, free of commercial constraints and fickle audiences too narrow in scope to accept anything other than what they view as the given norm.

In a way it's fairly irrelevant what Koyanasqaatsi meant to me on a personal level, though I might get to that later. What's important is what Koyanasqaatsi represents. It's an interesting attempt (and a successful one in my view) to illustrate how a narrative can be created simply by editing together seemingly loosely related scenes and images. It reminds me of another cinematic milestone, the Kuleshov experiment, in which two separate images where edited together to create a third meaning, and which helped establish what is now known as Russian montage (and speaking of the Russian montage tradition, anyone who has seen Vertov's The Man With The Movie Camera will no doubt find traces of it in Koyanisqaatsi and vice versa). Koyanisqaatsi takes it one step further, perhaps even to its logical conclusion, using editing to create a new meaning for the entire narrative as a whole. It works on a gut level and sparks an emotional response, in a way it demands a response, be it boredom, amazement... it really depends on the person (as illustrated by the Reggio quote above). As such it's an example of cinema at its most subjective.

Coming back to the influence Man With A Movie Camera no doubt had on this film, I think what Godfrey Reggio has done here is take this specific style of film-making and turn it into what I, personally, view as a cinematic statement on humanity- and our technology's relationship with the environment around us. It's a pessimistic film, filled with Cold War anxiety (though it hasn't lost any of its relevance) - and in retrospect, I also found it reminiscent of an age when America still had a strong avantgarde movement in the shape of people like Reggio or Laurie Anderson (and in a way it's an interesting coincidence that 1983 also gave birth to another experimental documentary, Chris Marker's Sans Soleil, which is equally rich in scope and tackles the same philosophical issues, albeit from a slightly different angle).

I really wonder if the western world could produce a film like this today, in an age where cinema audiences are more fickle than ever, demanding a cut every three seconds and some sort of "surprise twist" at the end, with hardly a niche left for the Godrey Reggios of this world. But in a way I suppose it doesn't really matter. Koyanisqaatsi, to me at least, is one of the richest cinematic experiences anyone could possibly hope to have, and I doubt I'll see a film which will move me quite like this for a long time to come.
92 out of 96 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
epsilon325 March 2005
Make no mistake -- you need to get into the right mood to properly enjoy this film. Try watching it with your cynical or populist friends and they'll pour scorn upon it. Don't try to convince others to 'get it' as they won't.

The best thing to do is to turn off all of the lights, pump up the sound and absorb yourself in the spectacle that unfolds on the screen. If you do this, you'll experience one of the most breathtaking, moving and exciting pieces of art ever. There are few films that reach these heights -- 2001: A Space Odyssey is the only one that instantly comes to mind.

Don't analyse it until it's finished. Talking through it will ruin it. I've found that the film works best on an emotional level so switch your brain off and just watch and listen. By the time it's finished, you'll feel like you've been on an exhausting and exhilarating journey that you'll want to take again not long afterwards.
174 out of 187 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Out of balance
jotix1008 February 2005
Godfrey Reggio's magnificent documentary "Koyaanitsqatsi" was an amazing experience when it first came out more than twenty years ago. Watching for a second time, this time in DVD format, one realizes how this movie makes the case that it must be seen in the big screen in order to get all the brilliant cinematography in its proper perspective. Even watching it in a 32 plasma screen, one realizes it pales in comparison when projected on a larger movie theater screen.

The images that are presented in the film are just beyond belief. The fantastic music score by that genius, Phillip Glass, compliments and enhances our experience. This film will live forever in spite of some of the comments submitted to this forum, because it deals with universal themes that will stay with us on this planet while human life will exist. This was pioneer movie making that later on became main stream. The originality being in the way the director presents the different sections in the film with some unusual photography that, while imitated, remains the standard for comparison with any new so called latest technique and innovation.

Kudos to Mr. Reggio, Mr. Glass and the people behind this gorgeous film.
102 out of 110 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Just watch it
Boyo-29 July 2001
A welcome assault on the senses, 'Koyaanisqatsi' is not for the impatient or nervous. You have to give it time because it is slightly dull in the very beginning, as the music and landscapes are fairly ordinary. Once it gets going, its really fascinating. Some gorgeous images, none generated by a computer I might add, and a soundtrack to match the intensity makes this a unique movie experience. I saw it on the big screen when it was first released, and it was MUCH better than on my not-that-big television.

One of the things I also like about this movie is the fact that since there is no dialogue, it can be shown in any country in the world unchanged. We would all see it the exact same way. I like the idea of that very much.
122 out of 139 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Utterly, completely, blown away
IMDb-610530 March 2005
I first went to see this film almost by accident. Some friends were going, & it happened that Philip Glass was due to be in the cinema for an after-screening interview. I wasn't a huge fan of Philip Glass, I'd never heard of Koyaanisqatsi or Godfrey Reggio: but what the hell, I went along, expecting some sort of nicely-filmed but vaguely-boring worthy documentary.

An hour & a half later, I was - and I'm having to try very hard to find adjectives here - in fact I'm failing. It was The-Thing-That-You-Can't-Even-Tell-Someone-What-It-Is. Completely transfixed, transported, for 90 minutes of my life.

This film has no dialogue. It has no actors, apart from everyone & everything that Ron Fricke's camera touches. It has no plot, apart from just the simple, complex, unfolding story of the world.

The truth is, of all the films that people feel have really made an impact on their lives - and you only need to read through this lengthy thread to see how many of those people there are - this is one of the hardest to communicate to someone who hasn't actually seen it. You can compare it, perhaps, to things they might have seen - but there aren't that many to compare to. It has a kind of poetry on a whole different level from, for example, Man with a Movie Camera. The only things that spring to mind for me are Orphee or Last Year at Marienbad, but these are completely different kinds of movie, and even people who don't like them might be totally taken apart by Koyaanisqatsi.

Sure you could - rightly - use phrases like "breathtaking cinematography" or "unforgettable images". You could praise the music (which really opened my ears to Philip Glass). You could point out, as many have done, how the film made you look again at the world, & at your own place in it. Or you could try to relay its "environmental" message - and there are people, especially those who take any implied criticism of our species' waste and cruelty as a kind of personal insult, who will not like that message.

But none of these things would come close to capturing what makes this film so special. Like trying to explain "red" to someone who's never seen colours. You have to experience it. If possible in a cinema, sitting right down at the front, completely immersed in the screen and its images.

I know I'll never forget the first time I saw it. You might not either.
27 out of 29 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Kind of like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but without the constant barrage of dialogue...
Anonymous_Maxine7 January 2003
Koyaanisqatis is an extremely unusual film, and by far one of the most unusual I have ever seen. It takes on the daunting task of portraying the history of the world until modern times (or the early 80s, at least) entirely without dialogue. It is a documentary of sorts, in that it is amazingly informative, but it is filmed like a Hollywood film. Expertly framed shots and flawlessly smooth camera movement and shot composition. There is an unbelievable amount of talent behind this film, both in the fascinating images that are presented and the mesmerizing score by Philip Glass.

It is a very slow moving film, but it manages to keep your attention because, in many cases, it is just so interesting to see the things that are portrayed and the way that they are shown. This is the only film, for example, where you can see a shot of a 737 approaches directly toward the camera over a hot runway in a shot that is possibly over a minute long with no movement other than the sluggish lumbering of the massive plain.

Godfrey Reggio takes Glass's score and places images over it that add to the sound and create an experience that is far greater than, as they say, the sum of its parts. The shots contain camera movement or lack movement, are sped up or slowed down, and have live sound or no live sound depending on the desired effect, and the end result is absolutely hypnotic.

This is a wonderful cinematic experience for people of all ages, and possibly my favorite thing about this film and it's successors is that, because they have no dialogue, they can be shown in any country in the world and not have to worry about subtitles or even altered meanings. This is a film for humanity.
82 out of 98 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of the most brilliant movies ever made!
PeterRoeder5 November 2003
This is a stunningly beautiful movie. The music by Phillip Glass is just a work of pure genius. I can watch this movie again and again. The final sequence of the Hobi legend's judgment where the container falls from the sky is just unbelievable. How was it filmed? It's so amazing. If you have not seen this film watch it - again and again! This must be the only movie which in a powerful way, far better than, say, "Apocalypse Now", sums up why our current "civilization" might be heading for destruction. Moreover, "Koyaanisquatsi" "defamiliarizes" the world and humanity allowing the viewer to benefit from a "verfremdung" viewpoint. In other words, we learn so much about our own life and life in general by watching it from this entirely new viewpoint of "Koyannisqautsi", where fast motion is used extensively. What is mankind about? Why are we moving so fast? Towards what goal? What is nature? What is the driving force of nature? What is the pulse of the earth? What is our relation with ourselves, nature and other people and animals? Moreover, I think this movie is better than the sequel "Powaquatsi". Anyway, I cannot emphasize enough how brilliant "Koyaanisqatsi" is. Watch it! Watch it! Watch it!
68 out of 82 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
One of a Kind - a MUST-SEE item.
fred-williams17 October 2005
Koyaanisqatsi is a unique and thought-provoking film. It came out at about the same time as "My Dinner With Andre", another unique and thought-provoking film which used conversation as virtually the sole method of communicating. Whereas "My Dinner With Andre" consisted entirely of a conversation between two actors, and resulted in the formation of numerous local discussion groups by devotees, Koyaanisqatsi passed relatively unnoticed, perhaps because it used the opposite technique of relying only on images and music, with no dialogue whatsoever. I found both films fascinating.

The first half of Koyaanisqatsi is of a world full of beauty. The most memorable images for me are time-lapse photography of clouds and their shadows moving across the canyon-country landscapes of the desert southwest. Anyone who has spent hours gazing into a fire or watching waves at the beach will find the photography mesmerizing - one of few film experiences that convey natural beauty almost as well as the reality itself.

The second half of the film is an intentionally jarring contrast, starting with a depiction of mechanized destruction of the same beauty for human purposes, i.e. mining coal to produce electricity. The message soon becomes overwhelmingly plain: We are screwing the place up, and are immensely poorer for it. The sourpuss face of frustration and disgust on a woman vainly trying over and over again to light her cigarette with an empty lighter summed it up for me, although other viewers of any sensibility will find plenty of disturbing images from the second half of the film to identify with.

As my friends and I left the theater (sadly, this is one of those films that loses some of its impact on the small screen) one remarked "It's been done. They've made the movie I wanted to make". Some of the commentators here have basically said that, while Koyaanisqatsi is undoubtedly a very good film, they didn't like the message; one referred to people who would enjoy the movie as misanthropes.

While its opposite film, "My Dinner With Andre" was full of discussions about the unarguably wonderful meta-physical potential of sentient beings such as ourselves, and while I enjoyed it a great deal, the contrast between the two seemed to point out that we as a species really are rather full of ourselves at times. Whether one is inclined to agree, or just wishes to see a glimpse of another point of view, one cannot go wrong seeing Koyaanisqatsi. Like the Angel of Death silently pointing out to Ebaneezer Scrooge the error of his ways, this film's message IS unmistakable, and needs no words.
10 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A film that stays with you
mikayakatnt13 January 2020
Mesmerizing, scary, and intriguing. I find myself unable to turn away from this film. The soundtrack made it that much more powerful.

5/5. A must watch. Some people prefer it with perception-changing substances, I prefer it sober.
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Moving photograph
go_go_gadget_arms8 September 2007
This movie, if we can call it a movie, I would sooner call it a work of art, is like watching a moving painting with sound. Every screen shot floods the senses with colours, movement and sound that make you see the world in a different light. A definite wake up call regarding the way we live our lives but also a celebration of the planet and the people in it. The visual techniques used (the speeding or slowing of the image, the close-ups, the pans) all add impact to what the film maker wants to show us. In a time where movies and video are mostly used as profit makers, this film takes the medium to a new level to bring to us a unique and insightful 90 minutes. Absolutely beautiful!
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Perfect match of image and sound
RNMorton13 November 2005
I was trying to explain this movie to a group of people and I couldn't get the point across. I guess this is just one of those "you had to be there"s. Non-narrative, kaleidoscopic view of mid-80's America combines scenic and street scenes with sped-up images of everyday life, including vehicle and pedestrian traffic and manufacturing processes. The adjustment in speed lets us see things a little differently and maybe more perceptively. It doesn't sound like much but when it's perfectly wed to a unique musical score it rocks. Reminds me a little of the surfing movie Thicker Than Water in its inspired combination of image and sound. I watched this last night and now I'm watching it again today. Note: I thought that was the Challenger explosion at the end of this until I saw this movie was released 3 years before that. Pretty weird. A big 10 out of 10.
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Hunter Gatherers...
Xstal21 September 2020
... doing what they do best, scarring the planet with concrete, raping its natural resources, pollution, destruction and chaos. The saddest part of this fascinating and visually stimulating documentary is that we continue, exponentially, doing what we're good at. Which is fine if you're alive today (not really) but future generations may have to rediscover some ancient hunting and gathering techniques to survive - most probably hunting themselves as there'll be nothing else worth gathering - assuming we are.
12 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
it remains profound
vjetorix20 July 2004
KOYAANISQATSI remains a profound statement over twenty years after its original release. the point then is the point now.

one of the great things about this film is that while the intrusion of man is initially presented as profane and abhorrent, ultimately there is found a symmetry to the human experience that is as organic as anything found in the `natural' world. i used to be tempted to perceive humans as the only species on the plant that didn't fit, that threw everything out of balance, as it were. but over time it has become apparent that even the blight of man on earth is a naturally occurring phenomenon. the evolution of life is the destruction of life. the circle is unbroken.
35 out of 49 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Forced harmony
chaos-rampant13 September 2012
This should have been ideal for me. I am always on the lookout for transcendent vision, and second to the real journey is only the cinematic ritual. Herzog does it for me, Tarkovsky and his rituals about time inside time. And I firmly believe it has done quite a bit of harm to think the universe is telling some sort of story, it has misled us to devise arcs and expect story-answers, so I welcome any attempt that aspires to push against the boundaries of thought and narrative. That is always the essential ritual, only the tool that allows the dancer to submerge himself beyond thought and description, to where he can be one with dance that means itself.

I will not deny the man the powerful dance of his images, or the dedicated craft, but the ending reveals him to be shallow in the reach and depth of his meditation (if you were on the fence before). And it matters that this narrows the world by so much, because a lot of people are coming to it for a worldview and willing to open up.

His "life out of balance"(Koyaanisqatsi) is "a state of life that calls for another way of living".

It is just small view to contrast natural 'purity' with the evils and violence of man-made technology.

Worse, it is every bit as idealized and un-natural as seeking out panoramas of skies for their extraordinariness. You can suspect that the filmmakers had to sift through a lot of unexciting shots of nature until they could settle on images that were nature as they wanted it to be, more 'natural' than others.

And passing that as spiritual vision narrows the world, because it forces harmony where actual nature has turbulence built into it, stochastic chaos, and that forces a story of something originally pure and stable -paradise- that we are separate from and uprooting, and this sort of religious thinking only further separates us from the natural world. It also ignores fundamental dynamics of the real thing.

For one, "life out of balance" is the natural way, it is why everything exists in the first place; planets are in position, because universal space exploded in that first minute of creation. I wonder if he was blind to it in his own images of swirling clouds and sand-particles.

Moreover, we are indeed, doing a lot of destructively rapid , short-sighted terraforming of our own next to nature's, and a lot of our contraptions break, but wouldn't it be much more agreeable to counterpoint that with some of the many wonderful advances we have made on the backs of failure? Being able to separate now poisonous from edible and medicinal plants, means people died in the discovery, brave and curious explorers.

And this guy is just not a very curious explorer to me. He has traveled far and captured amazing things on tape. But, it seems as if all has to fit into that one image, instead of one image splintering to reveal a multitude of reflections.

His craft reveals as much; it strives for controlled perfection, omniscience, monumental depiction, clean boundaries, in every bit the same way as Riefenstahl fought in her films to choreograph the world into her own image of idealized sensuality - confused for spiritual.

It's no wonder Coppola was so smitten by this he put his name and money on it, a similarly over-zealous man enthralled (at one point) by 'mystical' nature.

Both, by their overly zealous approach to freeze transcendence, reveal in a roundabout way the limitations of the human model criticized here: we are at odds with this being an imperfect , chaotic world, so when the film ends with footage of burning space rocket debris cascading from the skies, the notion is not acceptance of the inevitable end of things, but a cautionary lament: if only we lived another way, things wouldn't blow up in our face. And there is simply no such way to live, not without skiing on imbalance, which is why life is exciting in the first place.

And we all have to live with the fact every single day. The energy world has to daily spend a large amount simply to make-up for turbulent energy loss, because that is nature's way.

And isn't it just weird but so revealing at the same time, that human-attempted control over the elements is criticized, by filmmakers who used some of the best film technology had to offer, in order to manipulate the elements and even time itself to enhance impressions of natural purity?
13 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Very interesting
DJAkin8 November 2002
This movie has no script, just visions and music. It is very nice to watch. The photography is amazing. This, along with the music, make it a very surreal experience to watch. I bought the DVD and just love it. The music is terrific and the commentary in the special features section is just out of this world.
36 out of 52 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Like a documentary made by aliens about the 80's
petter-6255622 January 2017
A very beautiful flow of clips, even though some of them should frighten more than intrigue.The tempo is also part of what makes is so captivating. The clips slowly builds up and creates an alarming story. At the same time every sequence stands on its own. The lack of words gives it an almost alien view of earth and man's relationship to the planet. Together with the score by Philip Glass it sucked me in and I have rarely been so focused on every frame throughout an entire movie. It must have been quite amazing to see this in a movie theater back in the 80's with the big screen, speakers and also i guess in a time when similar creations were more scarce than now. It's by far the most visual movie I have seen and the fact that it only relies on images and music to tell a story made it bypass my rational filters and made me fully present in the moment for 86 minutes straight.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
maxwell-turnbull15 March 2005
I have read quite a few of the messages posted about this film and on thing that I have noticed is that a fair number of them complain about that there seemed to be no dialogue in this film.

Of course there was/is a dialogue that tan from beginning to end of the film...it was/is between the images presented and the viewer. How a person deals with the aftermath of the experience of viewing the film is something that is dependant upon whatever that person has experienced throughout their own life.

That is why all comments about this film are valid...even the 'dumb-assed' ones.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Beauty In Balance
Squrpleboy3 November 2002
I cannot claim to fully understand, or attempt to explain, all of the underlying "messages" this film might have about our world, but I was nonetheless moved and enraptured with having seen KOYAANISQATSI. From a purely visceral, aural, emotional, and possibly even physical standpoint this film creates a full plethora of sensations that affected me to the very core of my being. The cinematography and editing are absolutely superb, and the driving soundtrack by minimalist composer Philip Glass is unquestionable brilliance. Despite the thousands of images, movements and sequences the viewer is taken through during the film's 87 minute duration, so many will remain locked in your mind's eye when the credits have long faded away. It does take an incredibly open mind (in other words, it's "artsy-fartsy"), but it truly is a great cinematic accomplishment and a wonderfully moving experience. You don't have to "get it", just WATCH it! 9/10. Utterly MESMERIZING!
14 out of 20 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
More then a film - best seen on a big screen, in 1.33 aspect ratio
Nobody-276 January 2007
Koyaanisqatsi is a product of years of hard work on part of filmmakers and hundreds of years old Hopi prophecies. Watching Koyaanisqatsi with some knowledge of Hopi culture goes a long way towards truly enjoying this film.

I have seen Koyaanisqatsi numerous times, every time on the big screen and I believe that seeing it in cropped 16:9 aspect ratio can't do it justice. Having said that, it is still better to see it even in 16:9 then not to see it at all. (although I would advise against watching it in 16:9 on a small screen TV).

Koyaanisqatsi is a film with no dialog, actors or even a "story". However, to those familiar with concepts which are in the film, this work of art has a lot to offer.

Hopi Indians believe that God (or "Massaw" as they call the creator) created four distinct races to develop four essential elements: earth, wind, water and fire. The first part of the film illustrates that, although beautiful imagery can easily distract us, in a good way, from noticing that pattern is followed.

It is the white man that developed and is still developing what can be done with fire element: mining and excavation, arms, nuclear weapons, engines and power plants. In the process, all kinds of fuels are needed and consequences were foretold by Hopi prophecies - "If we dig precious things from the land, we will invite disaster".

Without narration, dialog or acting, Koyaanisqatsi communicates very well dangers and pitfalls of careless modern development which is quickly surpassing our abilities to control it. In this respect the film could be seen as pessimistic, but I look at it more as an observation. Koyaanisqatsi is not a criticism of all modern technology, rather a look at, from a fresh perspective, of what we are doing to the world we inherited and seem to take for granted. It doesn't let us turn a blind eye to our race with ourselves in which essential earthly and human values are left behind. Even with the film being 25 yrs old, the freshness is preserved and is it's key element.

Koyaanisqatsi is probably the most enjoyable and moving portrait of our planet and humankind and should definitely be a centerpiece of some time-and-space-floating time-capsule.

For me, Koyaanisqatsi is one of only a few films which I consider works of art in the deepest sense.

Unless you are into plots and action, you will not be disappointed by this film; in fact, this will be the fastest 100 minutes of your life and it could be the most enjoyable film you ever saw.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Interesting, But We Get The Point By 'Halftime'
ccthemovieman-115 July 2006
This is a critics' favorite which usually means it's vastly overrated. That's the case here, too. That doesn't mean it's not worth seeing - it is worth a look - but it's probably not worth owning.

The film is a non-narrative piece showing the comparison of peaceful, tranquil scenes from mountains and other earthly sites and then comparing them to the huge concrete buildings man has built in cities along with the busy lifestyle of modern-day human beings.

Scenes of mass transportation and crowded streets are shown in fast-forward time, audible sounds done the same. It emphasizes the rush-rush- rush of everything in modern-day life.

That "out of balance" message was interesting to watch but grows tiresome quickly. The filmmakers point could have been made in half the time, not an hour-and-a-half of the same message with many scenes drawn out way too long.
29 out of 51 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The New Synthetic Pantheism
tedg13 October 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

I make a practice of bending hard into a filmmaker's world. Nothing has ever been too pretentious for me. I find something good in even the most poorly conceived projects. I'm inclined to pure art. I play my Kronos Quartet CDs over and over.

That said, this film breaks my patience. Sure, it has quite a few massively beautiful images. But they are of the type you find on inspirational posters. There's no presence. All the life is drained out of this and what we end up with is Brian Eno for the eyes. Space music to watch. Soft, soft softly.

Now I suppose you can create some romantic anti-myth about the purity of nature among all these synthesizers and helicopter shots. I suppose you can create a myth about a mystical tribe of Indians who were attuned to nature before `technology' (read: ideas and art) came along. In those splendid days all was in balance. Soft, soft.

I think I understand what this tries, and its superficially is what bothers me. If you are serious about spiritual vision, and ready to leave this coffee table movie, try `The Falls' which exploits no aboriginals, has a far deeper minimalist composer (Nyman) worries about technology and nature in a way that sticks, and uses the camera to give rather than take life. Quite long and meditative.

`Man With a Movie Camera' is even less accessible narratively but far, far more cinematically poetic than this.

Trivia: I think I know the Air Force pilot dwelled upon about midway through. He's actually a gentle, quite spiritual man who would never wear his inner peace on his sleeve like Reggio does in the DVD extras.

Ted's evaluation: 2 of 4 -- Has some interesting elements.
10 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A socio-political tour de force, and proof that life on Earth is indeed out of balance.
RJBurke194216 November 2007
We are but dust and grime upon the face of the earth...

When this visual opera of the senses was released, somehow I managed to miss it for all these years. Only now, have I been able to get a DVD and feast myself to one of the most mesmerizing documentaries I've seen. Now I can get to see the sequels...

In the twenty-five years since its release, nothing much has fundamentally changed. The only real difference is that the scale of life out of balance has ballooned to the point where humanity has finally realized – perhaps too late – that we are indeed on the path to self-destruction unless radical steps are taken to change our ways. Some might argue that I'm too pessimistic and point to the Montreal protocol (it set the wheels in motion to stop using CFCs that were causing the depletion of the earth's ozone layer) as proof that we can pull together when danger is imminent.

Perhaps true...but the problem is that many still don't think that life on earth – not in the upper atmosphere – is truly out of balance. This documentary takes us all back to what it was like all those years ago – and, as you will see or have seen on your TV news programs today, it's now all that much worse...

The metaphors abound, beginning with Earth, Air and Water as the three dominant and necessary conditions that permit life on this planet, then relentlessly but gradually, showing how humanity changes the very conditions that support balanced life. Mountains explode, fires consume, people increase and multiply together with the trappings humanity needs to keep consuming: traffic jams, food and automobile production, steel and glass monuments to Mammon – surely a parody of Kubrick's images of the monolithic Sentinel in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – freeways that look like arteries with blood coursing through veins, images from space that show glowing cities which morph into electronic circuits for computers – we've become the machines we've invented – and, of course, the milling millions, moving through life as though they are the walking dead, oblivious to all except the self and self-gratification.

It is at once a pretty picture and a damning one – of particular note, the sequenced implosion of the abandoned Pruitt-Igoe housing complex in St Louis, designed, ironically, by the architect of the World Trade Center, Minoru Yamasaki.

The music very sensibly doesn't belabour the use of the title; it's chanted only during the opening sequence and during the finale which, in my opinion, is the most stunning tracking shot I've seen yet as the camera follows the detritus from an exploding rocket (a Russian one, I think) plunging back to earth. For the rest of it, just sit back, let the music waft over and through you as you watch your future begin.

This is a film that everybody should see at least once.
6 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Highly original examination of life on Planet Earth
grantss31 May 2020
A documentary on modern human life, its routines, pressures, absurdities and pitfalls, and the contrast with the natural world.

A highly original documentary. Told only with images and a score - no narration or text of any kind - we see the contrast between modern life and nature and we also see what modern life constitutes. Wonderfully packaged by director Godfrey Reggio with a mesmerising score from Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi was quite revolutionary for its time.

It does lose some of its edge if you've seen similar documentaries. I thought Samsara (2011) was brilliant and Baraka (1992) was very good. I saw them in that order and I always wonder if I had seen Baraka before Samsara whether I would now rate Baraka higher: Samsara benefits from the novelty factor.

Which brings us back to Koyaanisqatsi. It precedes both of those movies and set the template for the ethereal, no narration documentary. More than influencing Baraka and Samsara it has direct links with them: Ron Fricke, director of Baraka and Samsara, was co-writer, cinematographer and co-editor of Koyaanisqatsi.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Powerful Images, Open Message
JiaQiLi20 December 2006
I agree with most reviewers that "Koyaanisqatsi" offers mesmerizing and powerful images. All of them portray different aspects of life. However, is there an absolute message in "Koyaanisqatsi"? If so, what is it? In "Essence of Life", director Godfrey Reggio says that "Koyaanisqatsi" opens up the world for the audience. It invites them to experience the film instead of feeding them a message. I have to agree with him. This film is so open that our interpretations are very much based on our beliefs and experience.

"Koyaanisqatsi" put me into a snooze at one point (hence the deduction) but I do not think that the film is bad. It makes me aware of urbanization's strengths and potential problems. If we always live in a fast and self-centred lifestyle, in what ways do we damage the world? What are human beings in the midst of the urbanized and technology advanced world? I interpret "Koyaanisqatsi" as an alert to us. We are in danger of becoming robots, machines, and slaves for technology (parallel to "The Matrix"). Technology builds up our lives in many beneficial ways. What are the effects of our lives if technology rules our daily living?

"Koyaanisqatsi" was produced in 1982. North Americans know much less about other parts of the world than today. The score draws me into the film. A person reiterates "Koyaanisqatsi" in the background early in the film. It sounds as if the world is crying in pain, or even dying. Consequently, I give it a high score.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed