The most captivating series of images in Naqoyqatsi, the final installment in Godfrey Reggio's non-narrative "Qatsi Trilogy," evokes the same awe and exhilaration experienced in his previous two visually stunning films. In extreme slow motion, and with a wide-angle lens, the camera floats along the fa‡ade of a deteriorating edifice to the drone of Philip Glass' hypnotic score--the sheer power of image and music uniting to generate a hauntingly effective mood. Unfortunately, these majestic shots conclude with the film's prologue, and Reggio falls victim to relying on the very digital technology that he fervently scorns, creating a meandering, inarticulate and ultimately disappointing film.
Naqoyqatsi, which takes its title from a Hopi word meaning "war as a way of life," is purportedly an exploration of the effects of technology in the 21st century. To this end, Reggio and his collaborators chose to assemble some 80 percent of the film from heavily manipulated, previously shot material, using computer-generated images or digitally altered stock footage (such as corporate videos, television shows and commercials). The results are less-than-dazzling "PhotoShopped" shots of decolorized ocean waves, slow-motion advertisements, and Timothy Leary-approved variegated fractal patterns.
By almost exclusively using this prosaic digital chicanery, Reggio undermines the elements that made the previous two films in the series, Koyaanisqatsi ("life out of balance") and Powaqqatsi ("life in transition"), captivating cinematic odysseys. In these films, we are seduced by the grandeur of exquisite sequences that at once offer new perspectives on everyday images and bring us to places we have never been before. The frenetic fast-motion romp through a supermarket, the extreme close-up abstraction of a slow-motion space-shuttle launch, and the raw beauty of a time-lapsed moon retiring behind a skyscraper make for compelling viewing because of their novel presentation of a familiar reality. Naqoyqatsi's computer-generated mountain peaks, by contrast, are dull and uninspired, their impact diluted by the prevalence of better digital manipulation in today's television and cinema.
The lack of convincing visual stimulation forces the audience to examine Naqoyqatsi's themes and ideas with more scrutiny. It's here that the film truly begins to fall apart. Forgoing the subtlety and interpretability of the previous films, Reggio bombards us with embarrassingly obvious, but curiously disjointed, imagery: digital zeros and ones dancing through space, the intercutting of scenes of war and video games, and even a colorized double exposure of one Dolly the sheep. By the time the onslaught of corporate logos rushes the screen (featuring companies ranging from Pepsi to Enron), one wonders if the eye-rolling will ever stop.
A film whose images and ideas are ineffective must then rely on one element--the soundtrack. Philip Glass, who composed music for both of the previous films, provides another striking, yet uncharacteristically orchestral, score, this time featuring the noted cellist Yo-Yo Ma. In Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi, Glass' sound perfectly harmonized with Reggio's picture to create a uniquely sublime experience. In Naqoyqatsi, Glass' powerful and moving music mercifully navigates us through the picture's shortcomings.
- Par Parekh