Desert Escape

With nuance unexpected from a Gerard Butler action movie, Kandahar uses its time wisely. Rather than delivering a single Middle Eastern terrorist group or foe, the script explores the various factions, fighting for their own beliefs or just survival. Compared to a mountain of post-9/11 shoot-everything flicks, Kandahar deserves notice purely for its ability to navigate tumultuous geopolitics without anyone truly being on the side of right.

Kandahar still makes mistakes, notably the garish yellow filter that sits over so many scenes, as if the Middle East is constantly covered by wildfire smoke. But, it gives a premiere role to Iranian actor Navid Negahban, and through him, Kandahar conveys the complexity of beliefs, challenges, and cultures that exist in the area. It’s stellar in that regard.

Kandahar conveys the complexity of beliefs, challenges, and cultures that exist in the area

Even from the American perspective, it’s grueling. To set the narrative base, the CIA runs an operation to destroy an underground nuclear facility. Watching from afar, the CIA control room cheers at the destruction, with zero sense of how many died. For Butler’s Tom Harris, it’s a job, and grizzled as Butler’s characters usually are, he’s numb to the death, looking only to return home to a fractured family. The same for Negahban, bonding the pair as they try crossing disputed territories.

Butler plays this part as he usually does, and at this point, may as well connect all of these under a single Jack Ryan-like franchise. Finding any emotional difference between them is akin to Liam Neeson in the same situation. Kandahar’s surprises come via the action, including a spectacularly staged night vision fight against a helicopter, which even given the absurdity of a single man fighting a chopper, plays convincingly.

Those expecting immediate gratification will wait. It’s nearly an hour before Kandahar puts all of its pieces in play, and the purpose of some don’t become known until later. The twisty CIA/Taliban/government/spy saga needs that space, even at the cost of pacing. There is value though in that material, treating the conflict zone with care, extracting audience empathy organically rather than forcing a message. That’s more satisfying than gunplay.


Behind the stock, generic yellow filter Hollywood uses to designate any Arabic country on screen, there’s a satisfying palette. Flesh tones impress and things like flags show vividness. Sadly, that’s rare due to the gross color timing.

Digital cinematography uses a mild grain filter, of which Universal’s encode doesn’t have any concerns. That leaves behind only clarity, and a precise, high-end resolution. Kandahar likely sings on UHD, but the studio didn’t issue one, offering only a Blu-ray. Still, it’s well-textured and crisp, delivering gorgeously defined wide shots regularly. In close, facial definition pops.

Under the sunlight, contrast shines while at night, black levels drift slightly, usually to a dense blue. That’s clearly by design, and costs Kandahar minimally.


An underground eruption of a nuclear facility produces a truly astonishing low-end, room-shaking burst. It’s brutal. That range continues throughout, adding to gunfire and vehicle engines (especially a helicopter). Kandahar’s DTS-HD track spares little.

For a 5.1 track, it’s still stellar, mixed wide and precise. Bullets and cars pan around the soundstage flawlessly. Efficient stereo use this wide is rare. Dialog scenes within the city satisfy with their ambiance, adding to the sense of space.



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With more nuance than expected, Kandahar tells a decent story behind its action, even if that context is clearly secondary.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 32 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

4 thoughts on "Kandahar Blu-ray Review"

  1. jay3ce says:

    I was shocked at how mature this was. It’s the complete opposite of what everyone expects from a Gerard Butler movie and I really appreciated that.

    I’m surprised you didn’t make more of the night sequences, which I thought looked pretty terrible. I saw it on Prime in HDR and I could barely see anything. It looked way more underexposed than usual and below what I’d consider acceptable.

    1. Matt Paprocki says:

      Agreed. I was shocked by how careful the script was. As soon as they blew the underground plant and everyone cheered, but one guy looked on with horror, it hooked me.

      It was borderline at night, but they looked properly overexposed to me, hence the gray-ish black levels. I will say that I was impressed my TV didn’t try going into sleep mode, which it will do if the content is uber-dark (the last Underworld was the worst). My LG will dim after a few minutes because it doesn’t sense motion. I wonder if Amazon’s compression didn’t hurt the visuals?

  2. jay3ce says:

    It’s possible but I think that’s just how they wanted it. The edge lighting felt too low contrast against the black. But you’re right, the flat color palette doesn’t help!

    The worst for me was Solo: A Star Wars Story which I saw theatrically and couldn’t see a thing. The king of terrible grades will always be AvP: Reqiuem. That’s so dark it feels like an endurance test!

    1. Matt Paprocki says:

      You’re right – edge lighting would have helped. They clearly chose to stick with realism above all else, for better or worse.

      I’ve wished for an HDR grading of AvP Requiem with the hope it will finally show some (any, even) detail in the shadows. Dunno if that information is even available in the source though.

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