The Kite Runner is a classic example of the difficulty of making a book into a movie. For all intents and purposes the adaptation was done very very well. The movie is technically about as true to the book as a person could expect. The story is virtually the same. All the main elements are there. And it is an amazing story.
But where I would give the novel a 9/10 I feel like I'm being generous in giving the movie a 7/10. And it is hard for me to tell if I'd have liked it more if I didn't already love the story or if I'd have liked it less.
When I give a movie a rating of 6 or higher I'm saying I liked it. I think the director and some of the actors did some really great things here. For one thing, we get to see the childhood dialogue in Farsi with subtitles rather than English. In this way the movie is actually an improvement on the book. And some of the actors did a really good job, too.
So what is the problem?
Somehow I was just not as captivated as I expected to be. Maybe this is just the problem of a reader expecting a repeat experience. But I'm not sure that is entirely it. I realize a film is going to be different than a book. You give leeway for that.
In fact, I think this is exactly where the movie failed. It wasn't different enough. It just told the story. Plot and some key lines were the main focus. Descriptions of setting were used to give us the setting, but where in the book the description of the setting also gives the reader the mood, in the movie they just treat it as background.
The movie needed to sit still a little more and let us soak in the setting. We needed a close up or two on some key character's faces (and especially with the child actors we needed to see those faces betray some feeling a bit more). We needed the lighting to look less sitcom-ish from start to finish. It was all just too-well lit. There are some dark moments in this story, but it felt like an after-school special at times.
The strength of The Kite Runner is this incredible window the reader gets into Afghani culture and history, into these particular characters, and into this unfolding drama of friendship, family, betrayal, and redemption. The movie opens that window, but despite the use of Farsi language and the seemingly-authentic setting, the view through that window just is not as vivid or deep as I'd hoped.
When you adapt a book into the film it is not just enough, in my view, to be true to the story. To use another example, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was very true to the original story (with the exception of that horrendous river scene) and yet totally failed to capture the wonder of the story (at least once they left the beaver's hut).
Sure, characters were given about as much background or set-up as in the book, but somehow in the book CS Lewis had brought us to the place where we felt we knew them already once we met them. Centaurs, fawns, dogs, deer, mice, etc. were all on our side fighting against evil. But in the movie, though they enter the story the same way as in the book, we don't care about them. We don't know them. They almost seem like background illustrations.
The film-makers in both of these cases have not gone out of their way to translate mood and character and feeling from the printed page to the screen. You have to communicate these things differently on screen or else you might as well just leave it on the page.
I do recommend The Kite Runner. In fact, I'd like to hear from some who have seen the movie but not read the book. Did it work? Probably to a large degree it did. I mean, I'm still giving it a pretty good rating here. It is a remarkable story, and in many ways it is well told. But you would be better off reading the book. You will feel and be affected by the story far far more.
But in my opinion that is not just because it is a book, but because the novel did a better job of being a book than the movie did of being a film.