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Despite tremendous performances from its two young stars, The Kite Runner doesn’t reach its lofty aspirations and instead flutters about as a ho-hum drama.

Go Fly a Kite

Picture and sound are a little soft in this "catch up" title for the Blu-ray format
Picture and sound are a little soft in this “catch up” title for the Blu-ray format

Movies are an increasingly international commodity and Hollywood’s major studios are willing to put up big bucks to fund one movie because it’s a franchise with global appeal. Think Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones. Other less notable titles might take in mediocre U.S. box office receipts, but wind up a huge success with phenomenal international attendance.

Perhaps as a sort of reciprocation, big-name players such as Frank Marshall, Danny Boyle and Sam Mendes have all recently produced or directed movies based on books written by foreign authors. The animated Persepolis (Iranian author Marjane Satrapi) and the flashy Slumdog Millionaire (Indian author Vikas Swarup) have unique stories and styles that manage to pull their audiences into their world.

Unfortunately for The Kite Runner, written by Khaled Hosseini (born in Kabul, Afghanistan), the story is too mundane and too calculated to create a truly resonating experience.

For You a Thousand Times Over

The story starts in 1978 Kabul, Afghanistan, and focuses on the friendship of two young boys, Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada, who deserves to be singled out for his astonishing acting debut) and Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi). Hassan’s basically the best friend a kid could ask for. Amir’s a champion kite flyer and Hassan is an adept kite runner — one who tracks down and recovers kites “cut down” during competitions — in order to claim them as trophies. As presented here, those kite flying contests, incredibly, have the same zest as the dogfights in Star Wars. They’re a visual treat.

Loyal beyond all reason, Hassan even accepts responsibility for a theft he didn’t commit but one which he is accused of by Amir. That alleged theft was preceded by the two kids being bullied by an older boy, Assef, who called out Hassan as a dirty Hazara, a pollutant of the Afghan gene pool. The bullying made the wrong impression on Amir, who abandons his friendship with Hassan from that point forward.

As a result, various cultural mores are touched upon as Hassan’s father, Ali, decides to part ways with Amir’s father, who employed Ali and provided housing for both Ali and Hassan.

Their departure was merely the beginning of the turbulence to head Amir’s way. With Russians invading Afghanistan, Amir and his father Baba flee the country and make their way to California.

Full Circle

The Kite Runner is one of those well-meaning movies that simply never generates the emotional punch that lies right beneath the surface of the material. What’s really a shame about winding up with such a tepid end product is all the ruckus the film generated back in the fall of 2007.

At one point, Hassan is raped by Assef — “discreetly,” in Hollywood terms. It’s a scene which ultimately led to delays in the film’s theatrical release while four of the young actors were relocated, for safety’s sake, to the United Arab Emirates.

As the story unfolds, Assef goes on to become a Taliban militant and, of course, there are a number of ways to read things. The rape of a single person can be writ large as the rape of an entire country, particularly one in which sundry forces, both internal and external, rip at society’s fabric.

With such a dramatic landscape to work with, one in which prejudices are seen traveling the world like a virus and Amir is given a fairly epic life arc to follow as he goes from living in exile in the U.S. to returning to Pakistan (where the Taliban has banned kite flying altogether) in order to find “a way to be good again,” there’s a wallop lingering around in the material that’s never dealt.

Blu-ray Extras

All things considered, the disc offers a solid collection of supplemental features. It benefits from the active involvement of the book’s author, Khaled Hosseini.

The running commentary, which takes the form of a discussion between director Marc Forster, screenwriter David Benioff, and Hosseini, is a bit of grind to listen to. It’s the recorded discussion of three seemingly hyper-sensitive males talking about their feelings and sensitivities. Forster, in particular, comes across as so sensitive, it’s hard to fathom his very next feature was Quantum of Solace, a hard-core James Bond action flick. That said, the commentary does offer good insight into what this trio was thinking while making the movie and includes some good cultural insight into the story’s themes. Recorded at a point when the film was “almost done,” their final comments regard their hopes that the movie will find its audience. In reality, that didn’t happen and the accolades they no doubt secretly anticipated never materialized.

The two featurettes have oddly misleading titles. One, Words from The Kite Runner, isn’t an in-depth analysis of the book or some photo montage set against Hosseini’s words. Instead, it’s actually a 14-minute segment, presented in standard definition, that relies mainly on interviews with Hosseini, Forster, and Benioff. It’s primarily about the author and the inspiration behind his short story that ultimately became the novel, as well as some thoughts about adapting the book for the big screen.

Likewise, Images from The Kite Runner isn’t a simple photo gallery. It’s a 25-minute making-of documentary, including casting and working on location in Afghanistan, er, rather, a Muslim section of China.

Combined, the two featurettes do a fine job of providing a sense of what it was like making The Kite Runner, particularly in getting a sense of Forster’s penchant for detail appreciating the rationale behind filming the Afghanistan scenes in Dari rather than English.

A public service announcement by Hosseini can be watched either as a prelude to the movie or separately. In it, the author encourages viewers to support non-governmental organizations working to help the people of Afghanistan. The Web site referenced in the PSA, however, is for a social action network “where you connect actions to entertainment to make change.” The value in making that high profile referral is questionable and actually misleading. There’s no reference to NGOs in Afghanistan on the home page, but far more troubling is the site search yields zero results for “Afghanistan.”

The theatrical trailer is also included and is the disc’s sole high-def supplement.

Blu-ray Exclusives

There are none.

Picture and Sound

While not a showcase of Blu-ray’s visual and aural capabilities, the presentation quality is nonetheless serviceable. Both the picture (in 2.35:1) and sound are unusually soft, which perhaps is a reflection of this being a “catch up” title for the Blu-ray format. The DVD edition was released a full year ago, shortly after the end of the Blu-ray/HD-DVD format war.

As for the audio specs, tracks are available in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 as well as French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1.

Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

Note: A large portion of the film was shot in Dari, an Afghan tongue, and is presented with English subtitles.

How to Use This Disc

Watch the movie. For the curious, check out Words from The Kite Runner for a look at the story’s beginnings and adaptation to film. Fans of the book and the author will also appreciate the running commentary.