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Paramount Studios presents
The Kite Runner (Blu-Ray) (2007)

"There is only one sin. And that is theft."
- Baba (Homayoun Ershadi)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 23, 2009

Stars: Khalid Abdalla, Zekeria Ebrahimi, Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada
Other Stars: Homayoun Ershadi, Shaun Toub, Atossa Leoni, Elham Ehsas, Tamim Nawabi, Nabi Tanha, Abdul Azim Wahabzada, Ali Danish Bakhtyari, Abdul Salam Yusoufzai, Saïd Taghmaoui, Nasser Memarzia
Director: Marc Forster

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Strong thematic material including the rape of a child, violence and brief strong language.
Run Time: 02h:07m:54s
Release Date: March 24, 2009
UPC: 097361426945
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ CB+B C+

DVD Review

There's usually some sort of mental block when comparing a book to the corresponding adapted film. For example, I'm a big Stephen King fan, and it's a rare day when a movie culled from one of his stories actually ends up as anything close to worthwhile; something just gets lost along the way. More often than not, it's actually a detriment to have the read book a film is based on, because it forces all types of comparisons, no matter how hard you try to suppress those thoughts. It becomes difficult to separate the two, and the propensity to compare/contrast usually outweighs simply attempting to enjoy a film.

Or at least that's what happens with me.

With that said, I recently read Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner, after receiving a glowing recommendation from my daughter, who had just read it as part of a class. It's a wonderful book, worthy of all the praise that has been bestowed upon it, and as a peephole into a diverse culture (Afghanistan) during turbulent times (the '70s through today), it is not only educational—it packs a powerful emotional punch.

It's a tale that crosses decades, concerning a friendship of two young boys and the tragic events that will push them apart, eventually forcing one of them to re-enter a dangerous world in order to try and make things right. Hosseini paints a vivid canvas of the Afghanistan he grew up in as a boy, and if even he were to strip away the compelling story, the personal, often ugly insight into life in a foreign country most of us Westerners know little about easily makes the book a must read.

And that brings us to Marc Forster (Finding Neverland) and his 2007 take on Hosseini's book, adapted from a screenplay by David Benioff (Troy). There's a massive disconnect somewhere between the book and the film, and it's tough to know whether the blame should fall on Forster or Benioff. Forster certainly imbues the project with realism, from the multitude of regional languages spoken to the gritty ugliness of Taliban-era Afghanistan.

He captures individual visual moments from the book beautifully, as when young Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and his friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada) are at a movie theater watching The Magnificent Seven for the umpteenth time. It's a relatively brief sequence, but it displays that idyllic childhood friendship between the two boys in a spot-on manner. But it's not enough to just string together a series of these so-called moments, there has to be something more to connect the dots.

So is Benioff the bad guy here? He had the tough task of chopping down Hosseini's book into a manageable screenplay, and the final cut still clocks in at over two hours. But whereas the book had the benefit of the story's narrator—an adult Amir—to delve further into personal elements of a given situation, the screenplay simply sidesteps that, and the result more or less deadens the dramatics.

There's a passage in the book when young Amir writes a short story about a man who finds a magic cup, and learns that if he weeps into the cup that his tears will turn into pearls, and at the end the man has untold wealth, but at the price of killing his wife. Amir, however, becomes stunned when his uneducated best friend Hassan innocently suggests that the man should have just peeled an onion instead. In the film this scene plays out almost exactly as in the book, minus the importance of adult Amir's narration, which Hosseini uses to cement the significance of Hassan's comment. Perhaps a small part of a long story, but that passage stuck with me for some reason after reading the book, and the screenplay only delivers what I consider half of the original emotional payload.

I look at The Kite Runner and I'm a little saddened at how it never came together like it should have. The performances are all admirable, most notably the two young boys, and the lack too many familiar faces (excluding Shaun Toub and Saïd Taghmaoui in minor roles) is as refreshing as the languages spoken. Forster is able to create a complex and authentic Afghanistan—though much of the film was actually shot in western China—but can never elevate much of Benioff's not-quite-there screenplay, which only seems able to mimic parts of Hosseini's book without capturing the heart.

Skip the movie. Read the book.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The AVC-encoded 1080p 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports saturated colors, most notably during the kite battles, alternating with a purposely dusty veneer for many of the more troubling Afghanistan moments. Fleshtones carry natural hues, and the level of detail on facial features is strong, certainly more revealing than the 2008 release, but still a bit short of what is expected for BD.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
English, French, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The lossless 5.1 TrueHD track is nice, but far from the type of showcase BD audio that the format can deliver. Not that there are glaring problems, because there is a pleasing of directionality, though surround channels are used fairly minimally. The diverse array of languages are presented cleanly, with no distortion, and perhaps best of all is the spacious treatment of the Alberto Iglesias' score.

French and Spanish 5.1 dubs are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Marc Forster, Khaled Hosseini, David Benioff
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: All of the extras have been ported over from the original 2008 release, beginning with a commentary from director Marc Forster, novelist Khaled Hosseini, and screenwriter David Benioff. The track is rather unique, in that Forster spends a generous amount of time pulling information out of Hosseini on his background, the writing of the book, and his impressions of the film version. That means much less of the typical "this scene was shot here" or "this actor is a great presence" kind of thing, though there is the obligatory talk about shooting much of the film in remote western China and the casting/language issues. I appreciated Forster giving time to Hosseini. Hearing his thoughts on things such as not having the character of Hassan have a harelip (so pivotal emotionally to the book), or how well the kite sequences captured Hosseini's memories of his youth make this worth at least a casual listen if you've read the novel.

A pair of Laurent Bouzereau-directed making-of pieces are included, both presented in SD. Words From The Kite Runner (14m:25s) moves back and forth between Forster and Hosseini, with much of this centered on the writing of the novel and adapting into a film. Images From The Kite Runner (24m:39s) tackles a lot of production issues, first and foremost the language issues and how they are handled in the film. This piece carries a little more substantive heft than Words From..., and while it only sometimes borders on fluffery (referring to Forster as "fearless" seems a bit much), the discussion of casting and handling the subject matter makes this one merit a look. A brief PSA (01m:18s) from Hosseini about what is happening in Afghanistan, in fullscreen SD, is available under the extras banner, or as an optional open when viewing the film.

The film's theatrical trailer is presented in HD, and being a huge fan of the novel I'm genuinely numbed by how many key plot points are ruined here. The disc is cut into 16 chapters, with optional subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Something gets lost in translation from book to screen. The film proudly features all manner of languages in an attempt to keep it real, but when compared to the beauty of Hosseini's novel, it fails to carry the same dramatic punch, and instead seems trite and ham-handed at times.

Despite an assortment of fine performances—little Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as Hassan in particular—this film adaptation remains a grand disappointment that seems to have had the best intentions. As a BD re-release, it offers no new supplements and image/audio transfers (nice as they are) that do not necessarily warrant a double dip.


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