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July 5, 2010
Kundun Blu-Ray Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
18/6/19981/6/2010UniversalMartin Scorsese
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1PGTenzin Thuthob Tsarong

THE MOVIE
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The very young Dali Lama in Kundun.

When you talk about great Martin Scorsese movies many would mention Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed or even his more recent Shutter Island. Few would list his 1997 movie Kundun, which is based around the life of Tibet's Dali Lama, as one of the greats. It is though one of his best, and most controversial works which has been seen by far too many people - it's American cinematic gross was just over $US5.6 million, primarily due to limited release after protests from the Chinese government.

In 1937, in a remote area of Tibet close to the Chinese border, a two year old child is identified as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the compassionate Buddha. Two years later, the child is brought to Lhasa where he is schooled as a monk and as head of state amidst the color and pageantry of Tibetan culture. The film follows him into adulthood: when he is 14, the Chinese invade Tibet and he is forced into a shaky coalition government; he travels to China to meet with a cynical Mao; and, finally, in 1959, ill and under siege, he flees to India. Throughout, he has visions of his people's slaughter under Chinese rule.

This really is a powerful film about one of the worlds most influential leaders, whether you believe he deserves his position or not. Now it's not a documentary, and packing in 20 years of a persons life into 130 minutes means you miss a lot, but the intent is present. This film shows the Dali Lama being discovered, his struggles of growing up in Tibet when China were looking to overtake the country, and the way in which Tibet now exists with the Dali Lama in exile.

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The Dali Lama with three advisors.
Martin Scorsese took the bold move of casting unknown, non-actors, in the roles, and the lead actor Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong is actually the great nephew of the Dali Lami himself. Needless to say, we don't think that better actors, or indeed just people, could have been found to fill the roles.

I first saw Kundun a couple of years ago on DVD and was blown away by the experience, and indeed the gorgeous visuals on offer. Now, having seen it again on Blu-Ray I am equally in awe of the filmmakers for creating such a beautiful, striking movie. If you haven't seen this I highly recommend it.

VIDEO
Kundun is a pretty delightful looking film which has some of the most gorgeous cinematography, costumes and art design seen in recent years. Fortunately this Blu-Ray disc, using an AVC MPEG-4 encoding at the films original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, certainly looks the part. The bitrate according to our PS3 system hovered around 30Mbps for the majority of the film and this provides a sharp 1080p image with realistic colours, but at times quite vivid and brilliant, good shadow detail and an overall level of polish that pushes this to an impressive looking film.

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Martin Scorsese's Kundun is on Blu-Ray now.
AUDIO
Kundan comes to Blu-Ray with a gorgeous DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (16-bit/48Khz) track and it's a real cracker with clear dialogue and some very atmospheric music from composer Philip Glass. Directional channels aren't used too often being a dialogue driven film but they kick in when required.

Other audio tracks on this disc includes a Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (16-bit/48Khz) as well as French, Spanish and German DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks. We only sampled each briefly but they seemed more then acceptable. Subtitles are presented in French, Spanish and German, but strangely/sadly there is no English option. Subtitles are only selectable after you have selected the audio format through the menus.

EXTRAS
Kundun is presented on Blu-Ray with what appears to be two meaningless extras. This couldn't be further from the truth. While we don't get a long list of extras like on the DVD, unlike the DVD the main extra here is a full-on 90 minute documentary.

Searching for Kundun (1:27:26): Running for almost 90 minutes this documentary really came as a massive surprise. It's a brilliant look at the Dali Lama, Tibet, and filming Kundun. The film is littered with on-set footage and interviews with Martin Scorsese which offer plenty of insight into making this film. This is just as impressive as the feature film itself.

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Kundun is a gorgeous film.
Trailer (2:26): A trailer for the film, sadly only presented in Standard Definition.

Video and Audio calibration: Some really basic audio and video calibration tools which you may want to run if you've never tested your system before, but don't expect much. A nice little addition though.

OVERALL
With subject matter which generates massive amounts of debate around the world - and indeed saw Disney effectively drop this film - there is no doubt that Kundun is a controversial film. Having said that it's also another brilliant work from Martin Scorsese and deserves to be viewed at least once. The Blu-Ray transfer is very impressive and the Searching for Kundun documentary is worth a watch on its own. Brilliant stuff.

Review By: Dave Warner

THE MOVIE
8/10
THE VIDEO
8/10
THE AUDIO
8/10
THE EXTRAS
7/10
OVERALL
8/10

Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Universal. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.