Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi ("Life out of Balance") was a formative cinematic experience in its day, right up there with The Wall and Repo Man (like them, also a mixed bag critically and a cult hit). Powaqqatsi ("Life in Transition") followed: more stunning, streaming imagery, overlaid with Philip Glass’s ambient techno-classical score. Images of ancient strife in modern landscapes, with a dreamy travelogue quality. With Naqoyqatsi ("Life As War" — the titles are in Hopi), Reggio’s 10-year project was rescued from distribution limbo when Steve Soderbergh stepped up as executive producer sight unseen.
This third effort is, unfortunately, flat and soulless. Although the music has improved (Glass’s brittle mandalas smoothed by Yo-Yo Ma’s cello), the imagery is heavily manipulated: absurdly colorized and clumsily edited, unlike the elegant, Mapplethorpe-like æsthetic created earlier. The message this time: technology is killing us, dehumanizing us, and frying our synapses so that sound bytes are all we can swallow. But the purity of Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi has been digitized, prettified, and high-deffed to shreds. Images of war, death, enslavement, and estrangement, the devolution of humans into eating, excreting machines . . . prophetic, yes, but also crass and mundane (the point, perhaps). The future is here, and it ain’t pretty. (89 minutes)