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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF Blu-ray Review: The Kite Runner



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#1 of 1 PatWahlquist

PatWahlquist

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Posted March 13 2009 - 10:50 AM

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The Kite Runner (Blu-Ray)

Studio: DreamWorks Home Video
Rated: PG-13 (for strong thematic material including sexual assault of a child, violence and brief strong language)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Video Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1; Spanish, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; English SDH+
Time: 127 minutes
Disc Format: 1 SS/DL BD
Case Style: Keep case
Theatrical Release Date: 2007
Blu-Ray Release Date: March 24, 2009

It was one of those instances of strange coincidences when two titles came for review that wound up having a lot in common. So much in common, in fact, that I have decided to meld together the reviews of The Kite Runner and A Mighty Heart since the two pictures combined provide a triptych of Afghanistan and Pakistan over 30 years. Part One is the first half of The Kite Runner, up until Amir and his father flee for America. Part Two is the second half of The Kite Runner, and Part Three is A Mighty Heart. They both show an evolving role of America and Americans in the fates of each of the countries as well as the protagonists of both pictures.

The Kite Runner begins this journey in Kabul, Afghanistan in the late seventies, as we are introduced to two young boys, Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada). Amir’s father utilizes Hassan’s father as one of his chief servants, and the boys are best friends. As a team, the two spend their time in competition kite flying, utilizing the agility of these kites to cut the lines of their competitors. This is a big deal among young and old alike, and Amir’s father, Baba (Homayoun Ershadi), takes great pride that his boy beat his record of eleven cut lines. Amir and Hassan are taunted by some older local boys who don’t approve of Amir, a Pashtun, hanging around with Hassan, who is Hazara. These thugs, led by the older, far more dangerous, Assef (Elham Ehsas), commit a horrible act upon Hassan, which is witnessed by Amir. Scared for his own safety, but not enough to come forward, Amir can no longer be friends with Hassan, so he frames him, causing Hassan and his father to leave their home in shame.

The Russians invade Kabul in 1978 and begin a decade’s long occupation of the city and country, causing Baba and Amir to flee to the US, winding up in San Francisco. The story jumps ahead to the late eighties and early nineties, as Amir (now older, and played by Khalid Abdalla) graduate’s from college, meets a girl and begins planning his life. He and his father are selling wares at a swap meet when they meet a general who served in the Afghan war with Russia. His beautiful daughter, Soraya (Atossa Leoni), catches Amir’s eye and the two are married. We again jump in time to 2000 when Amir, now a successful author, receives word from a friend of his father’s in Pakistan that Hassan is in trouble. He arrives in Pakistan to be told Hassan was killed, that there was more to their shared history, and Hassan’s son is enslaved by their old nemesis Assef, now a leader in the Taliban. Amir must face Assef and his own past and sins if he will ever be able to live a peaceful life.

Daniel Pearl was a journalist working for the Wall Street Journal when he is captured by Pakistani militants. He is held for ransom by these militants who want conditions of confinement improved for Pakistani POW’s housed at Guantanamo Bay. A Mighty Heart, set in 2002, focuses on Pearl’s wife, Marianne (Angelina Jolie) and her crusade, aided by the Pakistani police and just about every US law enforcement and anti-terrorism agency, to get her husband back safely. As viewers we are shown an over-populated Pakistan where everyone is on the take and even the police are portrayed as having shifting alliances from scene to scene. Pearl’s story ended tragically and it was one of those moments for us as Americans that early on confirmed the viciousness of our new enemy, and just how difficult it was going to be to be successful in this new war on terror.

I will try not to interject any political agendas into this review and stay focused on these two pictures. I watched them back to back over an evening and I was literally exhausted emotionally and mentally afterwards. Our initial introduction to Kabul in The Kite Runner shows us an almost idyllic urban landscape where the citizens are prosperous and the children can play safely in the streets, flying their kites and concerning themselves with little else than who will cut the next line. Amir is forced into situations far too big for him, and he cannot take the pressure, a theme that is reinforced as the Soviet occupation begins. Amir and his father flee their homeland and the country is raped over and over again, even up until the present day as various countries defile this once beautiful land. The rape theme plays out in several different ways through The Kite Runner and very subtly in A Mighty Heart, where Marianne’s beliefs and faith in authority is challenged at every turn.

Amir’s demons transfer into the present day as he returns to Pakistan and eventually, Afghanistan, to search for his friend’s son. He is confronted with a drastically different Kabul where Taliban soldiers drive through its bombed out streets and its citizens avoid direct eye contact. He goes to a stoning of an unfaithful woman and watches as her garments spring red with blood as she is pelted and killed. Amir flees from his birth country changed yet again, but this time freed from his sins and his atonement is in the form of his new “son”. Marianne’s struggle with the various forms of authority show us just how murky the new political, post 9/11 agenda has become. If Amir’s story introduced us to today’s Middle East, Marianne’s story gave you the rest of the story. Her plight is compounded at every turn as more and more American government and news agencies muscle in to try to help, but may in fact be there only to save political face. The complexities of Amir’s personal life mirror the complexities of the political landscape of Pakistan and America’s role in it today.

Both pictures are well served by their respective directors, Mark Forster on The Kite Runner and Michael Winterbottom on A Mighty Heart. Forster’s ability to hone in on and define the relationship between the young Amir and Hassan hearkens back to his breakthrough work on Finding Neverland, showing a realistic portrayal of innocence lost and corrupted. Winterbottom seems to emulate who I would venture is one of his influences, Steven Soderberg, in making A Mighty Heart look like a borderline documentary. Winterbottom de-saturates the picture as if to suggest the absence of black and white distinctions in the story and how it lives in a world of gray and he mixes video footage from the networks with the narrative. He quick cuts his scenes, jumping around as the local cops search for various suspects and he lets the sounds of the city narrate the images. Winterbottom’s faux-documentary style flies in the face of Forster’s more romantic storytelling, but it helps to show the differences in these countries from their status in times past.

Taking the two pictures together, you are given an incredible picture of a life so far removed from ours today, but both of our pasts, as Americans and Afghani’s, show spectacular cultural, familial and political similarities. While each picture stands brilliantly on its own, the pairing of the two reveal a deeper level of thematic storytelling that provides a more whole and far richer viewing experience.


Video:
Note: I am watching this title using a Marantz VP 11-S1 DLP projector, which has a native resolution of 1080p. I am using a Sony Playstation 3 Blu-Ray player while a Denon 3808CI does the switching and pass through of the video signal. I am utilizing the HDMI capabilities of each piece of equipment.

The Blu-Ray disc is encoded in the MPEG-4 AVC codec at 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The picture is shot very naturally and the colors remain bold and lush. From the colors of the clothes, kites and surrounding wares in the shops on the streets of Kabul, everything looks bright and clear. Flesh tones are accurate showing the differences in skin tones between the Afghani’s and the Americans. Black levels are good showing some fine detail. Detail and sharpness is good, but there is minor edge enhancement.


Audio:
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack was attained by the HDMI connection of the PS3 to the Denon 3808CI.

The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is serviceable for this type of story as most of the action remains in the fronts and specifically the center channel. Surround channels sounded excellent in the couple scenes in which they were utilized but then they are relegated to conveying basic atmospheric information. LFE’s come up infrequently and usually in support of the score. The soundtrack is clear, clean and free of any hiss or debris.


Bonus Material: all items are in SD unless otherwise noted.

Commentary by Directory Mark Forster, Khaled Hosseini and David Benioff: Forster does a lot of interviewing of the other two, but the whole track provides a nice look into the storytelling process between the two mediums. It does become a round table discussion eventually and it provides a great look into the process of making the movie.

Words from The Kite Runner (14:25): Hosseini, Forster and Benioff, as well as the producers discuss the story, the adaptation and the themes of the picture.

Images from The Kite Runner(24:39): the same participants as above discuss the shoot and how they all reacted to shooting in China.

Theatrical Trailer (HD).


Conclusions:
Two great pictures showing various times in a region’s history are even better when combined into a double feature. You should walk out of them exhausted, but enriched by the exposure to different cultures and the lay of the political landscape today. The blu-ray of The Kite Runner looks great with a passable audio track and decent extras.
ISO "Lost" ARG prints from Kevin Tong, Olly Moss, Eric Tan and Methane Studios.  PM me if you want to sell!

All reviews done on a Marantz VP11S1 1080p DLP projector.

Displays professionally calibrated by Gregg Loewen of Lion AV.