It’s taken Godfrey Reggio a full two decades to complete his trilogy of non-verbal films, each with a different Hopi title, which are intended to portray the world impressionistically from different perspectives. “Koyaanisqatsi” (1983) depicted “Life out of balance” and “Powaqqatsi” (1988) “Life in transition.” Now “Naqoyqatsi” deals with “Life in conflict.”
The present effort, like the preceding two, offers a succession of wordless images, often striking and sometimes eerily beautiful, accompanied by one of Philip Glass’ propulsive, minimalist synthesizer scores. Essentially they’re the cinematic equivalents of lava lamps, offering stream- of-unconscious “visions” of how things are, or more properly feel, to their maker. In this case even more than the others, the footage is of the found variety, but Reggio has made use of the most modern devices to manipulate it for effect. His mastery of the technical advances of the last fifteen years frequently gives the film a shimmering, ethereal quality that some will find mesmerizing.
The problem is that despite its visual virtuosity, “Naqoyqatsi” is banal in its message and the choice of material to convey it. Shots of marching troops, however beautifully massaged, grow tiresome upon repetition, and trotting out photos of western leaders and other figures to provide a sort of rogues’ gallery of force seems a rather puerile way to make a point. And since only the one point is reiterated throughout the ninety minutes (with some footage, to be sure, only tangentially related to it), the overall impact is fairly thin despite the hypnotic effect of the images.
Steven Soderbergh stepped in to serve as executive producer on the picture. Given his recent track record with “Full Frontal” and “Solaris,” it’s somehow characteristic that he should have become involved in the series when it’s reached its lowest point. “Naqoyqatsi” may look good, but it feels like a picture out of its time, a throwback that now seems rather obvious and naive in its artistic pretensions.