High and Low: 'Qatsi' Trilogy Is Hypnotic While Michael Caine Is Amusingly Idiotic In 'The Island'
Get out your passports, kids, because we’re seeing the world. Director Godfrey Reggio’s epic Qatsi Trilogy, filmed around the world, will kick your home theater to the next level with its stunning visuals and complex soundtracks. Then it’s off to the Caribbean, where Michael Caine embarrassed himself in a Peter Benchley adaptation several years before starring in that really terrible Jaws sequel. Some people never learn.
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE: Three films from screen artist and environmental activist Godfrey Reggio: The legendary Koyaanisqatsi (1983), and its equally impressive follow-ups Powaqqatsi (1988) and Naqoyqatsi (2002). (All three titles are words from the Hopi language; respectively, they mean “life out of balance,” “life in transformation,” and “life as war,” so basically this set is “The Life Trilogy.”)
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: All three of these films defy easy synopsis, but here goes: Reggio uses compelling imagery and the music of Philip Glass to portray the stark contrast between the natural order and man’s inflicting of industry upon the planet (and upon his fellow men). A slow pan across a desert plain or along the face of a cliff might be contrasted with sped-up footage of cars driving through cities or hot dogs and Twinkies being processed in factories. One of the signature moments of Powaqqatsi shows a small child walking along the road, only to be engulfed in the sand cloud kicked up by a passing 18-wheeler. There’s no narration or dialogue, so what you take from these film is purely up to you.
WHY IT’S SCHMANCY: This sort of non-verbal, non-narrative film generally gets relegated to museums and art installations, so for Reggio to have gotten mainstream theatrical (and DVD) distribution is something of a miracle. But even if you shy away from anything that even smacks of experimental, these movies are hypnotic and thought-provoking. (They may also play well in Washington and Colorado, if you get my drift.)
WHY YOU SHOULD BUY IT (AGAIN): Just the fact that these films are being made available in Blu-Ray for the first time would be reason enough to plunk down for this set, but it’s a Criterion Collection release, which means it comes loaded with oodles of great extras. There are new and vintage interviews, TV spots, Reggio’s short film Anima Mundi, a demo version of Koyaanisqatsi with a scratch soundtrack featuring Allen Ginsberg, a chat with musicians Glass and Yo-Yo Ma, and a booklet featuring essays by film scholar Scott MacDonald, music critic John Rockwell and environmentalist Bill McKibben of 350.org.
WHO’S RESPONSIBLE: Written by Peter Benchley, based on his novel; directed by Michael Ritchie; starring Michael Caine and David Warner.