Powaqqatsi: Life in Transformation is the sequel to the film Koyaansiqatsi: Life out of balance. Both films share a common style: most shots are of slow-motion or time-lapse (speeded up) photography. Although both are technically documentaries, the only narrator is a Philip Glass soundtrack. In both cases, this means the message is up for debate. The primary difference between the two is the setting: whereas Koyaansiqatsi is set primarily in the developed world, Powaqqatsi takes its themes mostly from developing countries.
Powaqqatsi is the kind of film that would quickly get repetitive in editing. The long slow-motion scenes are as viscous as the mud portrayed in the very first scene of the film. I’m sure it wouldn’t be boring though; each scene is visually stunning - the camerawork is first class, and each shot is perfectly in focus and perfectly framed. Despite the mostly slow scenes, the action seems to jump from continent to continent by the minute; nothing is identified, and you’re never quite sure where you are. A classic and iconic shot of an abandoned car in a highway median at one point is the best example of this.
Halfway through the film seems to develop a message - brought on by a montage of TV scenes from around the world. Themes of modern communication, war, finance, and so on contrast with the rural subsistence existence so far seen. It isn’t clear, though, exactly what this message is. Is modern existence dangerous? Is it just different? Does it clash - or can it be in harmony? I’ve got my own opinions on this, as most people probably do, but the filmmakers don’t seem to. It’s a disappointment that the film doesn’t commit itself more clearly. On a lighter note, it’s also a shame that they cut off my favourite scene - of a speeding train descending a steep hillside - far too quickly.
Otherwise, though, Powaqqatsi is film-making at its most professional. Whether you prefer this or Koyaansiqatsi will probably simply come down to which theme you find more interesting - for myself, it’s definitely Koyaansiqatsi, with its focus on technology. Both are a worthy watch.
(Note: There is also a third film in the trilogy, Naqoyqatsi: Life as war)