The Qatsi Trilogy – The Criterion Collection #639-642 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

December 12, 2012 by  

“The Qatsi Trilogy” is amazing visual poetry from filmmaker Godfrey Reggio with fantastic music by Philip Glass.  While each of these three films should be experienced, on Blu-ray the films look and sound fantastic, while the Criterion Collection set itself is magnificent.  Highly recommended!

Image are courtesy of © 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Qatsi Trilogy – The Criterion Collection #639-642

YEAR OF FILM: Koyaanisquatsi (1983), Powaqqatsi (1988), Naqoyqatsi (2002)

DURATION: Koyaanisquatsi (86 Minutes), Powaqqatsi (99 Minutes), Naqoyqatsi (89 Minutes)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:85:1 for first two films, 1:78:1 for “Naqoyqatsi”, 5.1 Surround, Color


RELEASE DATE: December, 2012


Directed by Godfrey Reggio

Written by Ron Fricke, Michael Hoenig, Godfrey Reggio and Alton Walpole

Produced by Godfrey Reggio

Executive Producer: Francis Ford Coppola

Associate Producer: Mel Lawrence, Roger McNew, T. Michael Powers, Lawrence Taub, Alton Walpole

Music by Philip Glass

Cinematography by Ron Fricke

Edited by Ron Fricke, Alton Walpole


Directed by Godrey Reggio

Written by Godfrey Reggio, Ken Richards

Produced by Kurt Munkacsi, Godfrey Reggio, Lawrence Taub, Mel Lawrence

Executive Producer: Francis Ford Coppola, Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan, George Lucas

Co-Producer: Tom Garrett

Associate Producer: Marcel Kahn, Tom Luddy

Music by Philip Glass

Cinematography by Graham Berry, Leonidas Zourdoumis

Edited by Iris Cahn, Miroslav Janek, Alton Walpole


Written and Directed by Godfrey Reggio

Produced by Joe Beirne, Godfrey Reggio, Lawrence Taub

Assistant Producer: Lauren Feeney

Executive Producer: Steven Soderbergh

Line Producer: Federico Negri

Co-Producer Mel Lawrence

Associate Producer: Steve Goldin

Music by Philip Glass

Cinematography by Russell Lee Fine

Edited by Jon Kane

A singular artist and activist, Godfrey Reggio is best known for the galvanizing films of The Qatsi Trilogy. Astonishingly photographed, and featuring unforgettable, cascading scores by Philip Glass, these are immersive sensory experiences that meditate on the havoc humankind’s obsession with technological advancement has wreaked on our world. From 1983’s Koyaanisqatsi to 1988’s Powaqqatsi to 2002’s Naqoyqatsi, Reggio takes us on a journey from the ancient to the contemporary, from nature to industry, exploring life out of balance, in transformation, and as war, all the while keeping our eyes wide with wonder.

One of the most fascinating and also important American fillmmaker of experimental documentary films, Godfrey Reggio will be known as the creator of the Qatsi Trilogy.  Three films that were taken from the Hopi language, “Koyaanisqatsi” (which translates to “Unbalanced Life” and created back in 1982), “Powaqqatsi”  (which translates to “Life in Transition” and created back in 1988) and “Naqoyatsi” (which translates to “Life as War” and released in 2002) are films that are meant for one to watch and give their own interpretation.

And now all three films will be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection in December 2012.

It’s important to note that these films are without dialogue, they are in essence films of visual poetry and everyone will have their own interpretation.  These are films that are meant to be experienced and truthfully, going into summaries about these three films will make this film seem weak by reading it, as the purpose of these films are mean to be visual.  But I will give my interpretation of these three films in my judgment call section.

So, we start with the filmmaker.  Godfrey Reggio is one of the most intriguing filmmakers who may not be as well-known as commercial Hollywood filmmakers but he is a person who has given back to the community.  The Co-founder of La Clinica de la Gente, the facility provided medical care to 12,000 community members in Santa Fe.  He started up “La Gente”, a community organizing project in Northern New Mexico’s barrios.  In 1963, he co-founded Young Citizens for Action, a community organization to aid juveniles who may have gotten themselves into trouble due to becoming part of a street gang.  In 1972, he co-founded the Institute for Regional Education in Santa Fe, a non-profit foundation.

From his work for various political causes, as well as working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Institute for Regional Education (IRE) in the early ’70s in creating public awareness of New Mexico’s invasions of privacy and the use of technology to control behavior, this is where he would meet cinematographer and editor Ron Fricke (“Chronos”, “Baraka”, “Samsara”) and together, these two would collaborate on a film titled “Koyaanisqatsi” which brought in another collaborator, musician Philip Glass (“The Truman Show”, “The Hours”, “The Illusionist”and “Secret Window”), who Reggio would work with on all three films.

The first film “Koyaanisqatsi” is a Reggio’s most well-known film that is not only a cult film but also a soundtrack by Phillip Glass that was well-known.  The film impressed many people including filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola who wanted to help by allowing Reggio to use his name and to help present and distribute the film.  Nearly two decades later “Koyaanisqatsi” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Despite the popularity of the film, due to legal and contractual rights issues, the film has been out of print for for nearly two decades until was released on DVD in 2001 by MGM Home Entertainment.  And a decade later, the remastered Blu-ray and DVD of “Koyaanisqatsi” and his two sequels was released by The Criterion Collection.

“Koyaanisqatsi” began in 1975 and because of budget constraints, Godrey Reggio along with cinematographer Ron Fricke felt it was best to shoot with 35 mm film.  The film is without dialogue was a collaborative effort between Reggio and Fricke who traveled to various cities with no script but just capturing what they felt looked good and using experimentation such as time-lapse footage for their film but also using double exposure but for the most part, keeping the footage from looking “gimmicky”, which Fricke wanted to stay away from.

One can watching “Koyannisqatsi” and see various footage of man-made technology but what has technology done for people at the time?  Destroy the environment?  Made people to dependent on technology?  Perhaps the meaning of “Koyaanisqatsi” is best to describe this film as “life disintegrating”.

The second film featured in the trilogy is “Powaqqatsi”.  If the first film was how man was dependent on technology, the second film moves away from technology and focuses on the conflicts in third world countries as people are dependent on traditional ways of living, while others become modernized through industrialization.  And is true to the film’s title which is a Hopi word for “life in transition”.

The third film “Naqoyqatsi” is the third film of the “Qatsi Trilogy” and this time, Godfrey Reggio and editor Jon Kane took a different approach by using archived and stock footage and manipulating them digitally via non-linear editing workstations with specially produced computer generated imagery to show how society has transitioned from a natural environment to a technological environment.  Reggio called the film “virtual cinema” but from the translation of the Hopi title, the meaning is “life as war”.  The third film would feature another film collaboration with musician Philip Glass who chose to include some non-traditional instruments in the film.

According to Godfrey Reggio, the  film would focus on three core themes:  “” which language and place gives way to numerical code and virtual reality; “Circus Maximus” which is the Love of money and how life has become a game; and last, “Rocketship twentieth century” is technology as war, civilized violence.

Because the film was being created near the World Trade Center at the time, 9/11 and the destruction of the two buildings would have an impact on the film.


“The Quatsi Trilogy” is presented in 1080p High Definition with “Koyaanisqatsi” and “Powaqqatsi” being presented in 1:85:1 while “Naqoyqatsi” is presented in 1:78:1.

“Koyaanisqatsi” is a film that incorporates footage shot by Ron Fricke but also incorporate a few stock shots.  The picture quality  looks great considering this film is around 30-years-old.  Colors are well-saturated and I detected no problematic issues or damage during the viewing of this film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Koyaanisqatsi” was created in 2K resolution on a Northlight Digital Film Scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. A 1999 transfer supervised by Reggio was used as a direct frame-for-frame reference. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS; jitter was fixed using Pixel Farm’s PFClean; and Image System’s DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and flicker.

“Powaqqatsi also looks amazing on Blu-ray.  Colors are well-saturated, clarity is very good and also no signs of any problematic issues with picture quality of this film.  The film looks great on Blu-ray!

According to the Criterion Collection, “Powaqqatsi” features a new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a new 35mm interpositive struck from the original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ DVNR was used for small dirt.

And last, “Naqoyqatsi” benefits from the fact that it was shot in 2002 but also a film that was manipulated digitally and purposely.  There is footage with wonderful detail but because of the alterations done to the images, various scenes look quite different especially when it comes to color saturation.  I personally detected no artifacts, banding or any problems with picture quality whatsoever, during my viewing of “Naqoyqatsi”.

According to the Criterion Collection, “About 30 percent of ‘Naqoyqatsi’s’ footage was shot on 35mm negative; this was scanned on a Spirit Datacine at Technicolor New York. The rest of the film – apart from a small quantity of material that was created digitally from scratch – is made up of stock footage that was manipulated using Avid, Adobe After Effects, and, for the 3D material, Maya. The final high-definition footage was color corrected and restored using a Digital Intermediate workflow to create a new negative. ”


“The Qatsi Trilogy” is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and the musical score by composer Philip Glass comes alive in lossless HD!  The audio is crystal clear, the music really captivates you and while watching the three films, hearing how certain instruments were isolated through a certain channel.  It was nice to hear but the music for this film is incredible and it enhances your appreciation for each film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “Koyaanisqatsi” was remastered at 24-bit from the original Dolby LTRT mags, augmented with some rediscovered mix outtakes that were folded in.  Clicks, thumps and dropouts were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  For “Powaqqatsi”, the original 4-channel discrete soundtrack was remastered in 5.1 surround at 24-bit from mags made at teh time of the original mix and from the Dolby LTRT.  This 5.1 mix was created in 1999 by composer Philip Glass’s music director, Michael Riesman.  Clicks, thumps, and dropouts were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  And for “Naqoyqatsi”, the original 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from 5.1 discrete digital masters.


“The Qatsi Trilogy – The Criterion Collection #639-642” comes with the following special features:


  • Essence of Life – (25:08) Shot in 2002, director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass talk about the origin of “The Qatsi Trilogy” and the concept of the music and imagery for “Koyaanisqatsi”.
  • Ron Fricke – (16:24) Ron Fricke discusses how he met Godfrey Reggio and how the two went on to make “Koyaanisqatsi”.
  • Privacy Campaign – The following features the two featurettes: “Reggio Interview” (4:45) from 2012 on the multimedia campaign on public awareness in New Mexico about the invasion of privacy and the use of technology to control people’s behavior.  The second part is “Television spots” (5:44) which are eight TV spots that aired in New Mexico in 1974.
  • Original Visual Concept – 2012 interview with Godfrey Reggio who discusses the initial visual concept of his films featuring early behind-the-scenes footage.
  • 1977 Demo Version – the following is the demo version created for the Naropa Institute and shown to poets Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky.  While the film is silent, there are two sound clips featuring Ginsberg chanting and playing the harmonium.  “Introduction” (4:18) – Filmmaker Reggio talks about the 1977 demo; “Silent Demo” is the full silent demo version (40:20); “Sound Clip 1” (31:02) and “Sound Clip 2” (16:15).
  • Trailer – (2:21) The theatrical trailer for “Koyaanisqatsi”.


  • Impact of Progress – (19:54) Shot in 2002, director Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass talk about working on “The Qatsi Trilogy” and the concept of the music and imagery for “Powaqqatsi”.
  • Inspiration and Ideas – (18:30) A 2012 interview featuring Filmmaker Godfrey Reggio who talks about the ideas and philosophies that influenced his work and the people who inspired him.
  • The Qatsi Trilogy – (8:44) Director Reggio being interviewed on the public television program “Colores~” by journalist V.B. Price.
  • Anima Mundi – (29:03) A short film directed by Godfrey Reggio in 1992 featuring music by Philip Glass.
  • Trailer – (1:56) Featuring the theatrical trailer for “Powaqqatsi”.


  • Afterword by the Director – (16:07) A 2012 interview featuring Godfrey Reggio talking about the Qatsi trilogy.
  • The Making of “Naqoyqatsi” – (4:17) Featuring filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, composer Philip Glass, editor and visual designer Jon Kane and producer Joe Beirne discussing “Naqoyqatsi”.
  • Panel Discussion – (54:28) A 2003 panel discussion at New York University moderated by music critic John Rockwell of the New York Times featuring filmmaker Godfrey Reggio, composer Philip Glass and editor Jon Kane.
  • Philip Glass and Yo-Yo Ma – (7:04) A 2003 featurette featuring composer Philip Glass and cellist Yo-Yo Ma discuss their time of making the music for “Naqoyqatsi”.
  • Trailer – (1:56) Featuring the theatrical trailer for “Naqoyqatsi”.


“The Qatsi Trilogy – The Criterion Collection #639-642” comes with a 38-page booklet with the following essays: “Celebrations and Warning” by Scott MacDonald, “Counterpoint and Harmony” by John Rockwell, “Geological Scale and Human Scale” by Bill McKibben.

Each of the three films featured in “The Qatsi Trilogy” are to be experienced.

Some may call it a collage of video clips, some will call it visual poetry or experimental documentary but like art, everyone who watches any of these three films, may it be “Koyaanisqatsi”, “Powaqqatsi” or “Naqoyqatsi” will have their own interpretation.

So, you are now wondering if “The Qatsi Trilogy” is right for you.  And these is not an easy answer because for one, it’s a magnificent set and one of Criterion Collection’s most impressive sets when you consider all the special features that were included with it.  But the question you will need to ask yourself, if it is a set that you will enjoy and watch?  Similar to earliest form of film, may it be the Lumiere Brothers or Edison films, while silent and entertaining for its time and are historically amazing as a record of early filmmaking, it’s not for everyone.  It’s random images of people enjoying their regular life.  For me, I enjoy watching those earlier films because it’s exciting to see how technology was able to record an era that was becoming industrialized and modernized.

But “The Qatsi Trilogy” are films that show how industrialization, modernization, technology has become so much of a part of our life, we are depended on it.

“Koyaanisqatsi” is a film that begins with a rocket during liftoff and then visual images of a desert landscape and the beautiful environments of oceans, the clouds, rocks, mountains, deserts.  Serenity for thousands of years until modernization and industrialization  led man to bring their machines to mine, to look for oil, to dig and pave ways for freeways, dams, housing.  And of course, desolate areas that were experimented with bombs.

People building homes, buildings which are then decayed, decrepit and destroyed.  We see modernization and environments as they are but people in time-lapse shots or slow motion.   cars on freeways, a concrete jungle that has now taken over land. For me, the message was clear.    Humanity has taken the land and changed the Earth’s environment.  Bare in mind, this film was shot in the mid-70’s and released in the ’80s.  But the film is such a fascinating film it shows how humans have taken opportunities to use the land that was once free of buildings, freeways, bombs, vehicles but now humanity is having their way with the natural surroundings and environment.

For “Powaqqatsi”, we see how there are areas in this world that have not been touched by technology or industrialization.  People who  from Serra Pelada in Brazil working to help a man who was hit by a falling rock.  A visual image of a head with multiple exposures.  We watch as the sun is rising in Africa, third world villages where people are enjoying life the way they know it.  We watch as people enjoy life where their ancestors lived untouched by technology.

People living life in villages, enjoying their daily lives, practicing their religion.  But we see how the old traditional ways of life is in a constant battle with industrialization.  Industrialization led to modernization and technology but will these people that have lived their lives from generation to generation now be forced to incorporate technology to their livelihood? As the title mentions…”Life in Transformation”.

The final film “Naqoyqatsi” is a frilm  that looks at modern life in industrial countries.  We see people transitioned from natural environments to technology and how appropriate for filmmaker Godfrey Reggio to use computer generated imagery.  It’s a bit unnerving compared to the other two films as images are manipulated purposely, but to show that life as we know it has and continues to change.  We are more dependent on technology and it has become part of our lives.

I feel that filmmaker Godfrey Reggio explains it best as a dark film about a world that people can no longer describe.   I found the film to be visually beautiful but yet so jarring as we never seen technology or digital manipulation featured in a Reggio film like it has in “Naqoyqatsi”.   Part of me wanted the digital manipulation to stop but that is what was important about the film, technology changing the landscape of the world and everything within our lives, some will love it it, some will hate it but it’s a film that does make sense to me, having experienced half of my life before computers, Internet, cell phones, smart phones became part of our daily life.

Picture quality of all three films are very good with some video looking amazing in HD while some showing a little shimmer but for the most part, picture quality is good and the balance of visual images with the music is fantastic.

For each of the three films, the music by Philip Glass is amazing and just to hear it via lossless is magnificent.  The music really captivates you and just to hear it with so much clarity on Blu-ray was amazing.   The music just goes hand-in-hand with what you see and it goes to show how unique and in-tune that both filmmaker Godfrey Reggio and composer Philip Glass as well as the editors are in crafting these amazing films.   And with each disc, you get a good number of special features that enhances your appreciation of the film.

So, we go back to the original question of whether “The Quatsi Trilogy” is worth it purchasing.  I give an emphatic “YES!” but with that being said, it’s important to say that these films are not films with dialogue, nor is there an plot nor does it feature acting.  These are films where visual images combined with music produce a story that is interpreted by the viewer.  And while this may not be for everyone, as an overall set, this Criterion Collection release is wonderful.   I’m really impressed by this set and what was included and yes, you are getting your money’s worth.

Overall, “The Qatsi Trilogy” is amazing visual poetry from filmmaker Godfrey Reggio with fantastic music by Philip Glass.  While each of these three films should be experienced, on Blu-ray the films look and sound fantastic, while the Criterion Collection set itself is magnificent.  Highly recommended!


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