Film review: Naqoyqatsi

Published: Friday, April 11 2003 7:26 a.m. MDT

Like its two predecessors, 1983's "Koyaanisqatsi" and 1988's "Powaqqatsi," the cinematic collage "Naqoyqatsi" could be the most navel-gazing film ever.

After all, even if it is feature length, "Naqoyqatsi" is little more than just a series of moving images — only some of which are as compelling as filmmaker Godfrey Reggio intends them to be. And unlike the other two movies in Reggio's trilogy (conceptualized, as is this one, with composer Philip Glass), "Naqoyqatsi" seems a little fuzzy and indistinct. Consequently, it doesn't do an effective enough job of illustrating its point.

The film's title is a Hopi term for "Life as War," which sounds promising enough. And there is something about it that makes the film hard to dismiss. At times it is visually compelling, if a bit elusive. And then there's the Glass score, which turns the whole thing into a filmed symphony.

"Naqoyqatsi" focuses on several aspects of its "Life as War" thesis. There's the obvious interpretation — the contention that man's violent tendencies and self-destructive nature will soon get the best of him. (This section includes snippets of various armies marching, as well as images shot in the New York location of Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, which supplied replicas of such current and former world leaders as President George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Nelson Mandela.)

The film also attempts to explain the part that technology has played, as well as the debate over whether genetic experimentation is ethical or a violation of natural law. (Including a brief examination of the cloning controversy, illustrated by a clever composite of Dolly the sheep, cloned in England.)

Reggio and his various editing, animation and photographic teams use such trickery as heat-imagery, X-ray photography and digitally warped images, which works well occasionally (though it is a bit overworked here).

The music is often as effective as the images themselves — sometimes more so. Of particular note are the cello solos (by Yo-Yo Ma), which lend certain scenes a mournful, almost haunting air.

"Naqoyqatsi" is rated PG for snippets of violent news footage (including scenes of warfare), as well as brief glimpses of nudity (male) and some nude artwork. Running time: 89 minutes.


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