Adaptation Biography

'Queen of Katwe' Blu-ray Review: Inspiring true story finds the strength and beauty in perseverance

January 31, 2017Ben MK

Movies based on real-life underdog stories have always been a proven draw at the box office, and if there's a studio that knows how to churn them out like clockwork, it's Disney. Still, don't let the opinions of cynical cinephiles stop you from seeing one of the most uplifting and feel-good films in recent memory. Because Queen of Katwe is 2016's Slumdog Millionaire.

Based on author Tim Crothers' 2013 book, "The Queen of Katwe: One Girl's Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion," the film follows young Phiona Mutesi (newcomer Madina Nalwanga), a girl from the Ugandan slums of Katwe, where she lives with her fiesty single mother, Harriet (Lupita Nyong'o), and her three siblings, younger brothers Richard and Brian and older sister, Night. Resigned to selling maze in the streets to support her struggling family, Phiona finds herself introduced to the joys of chess by a kindly coach named Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), and the discovery of her hidden talent for the game opens up a whole new world of possibilities.

Directed by Mira Nair from a script by William Wheeler, Queen of Katwe is straightforward to the letter, adhering to the template set forth by films like Rudy and Million Dollar Arm. Nonetheless, that doesn't make the movie any less heartwarming and inspirational, especially when it comes to the charismatic performances of the actors. Imbuing the film with humor and a natural, down-to-earth charm, Nyong'o, Oyelowo, Nalwanga and the cast of mostly unknowns play their roles with genuine heart. And in the end, that's what Queen of Katwe is all about.

Much like the story itself, Queen of Katwe's technical presentation is winning and thoroughly charming, as evidenced by crisp, clear and film-like image detail, top-notch contrast levels and rich saturation of the film's vibrant visual palette, which features no shortage of yellows, greens, blues and reds, particularly in the characters' colorful clothing. As for the movie's straightforward sound design, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix proves to be more than adequate, channeling both dialogue and music with the utmost clarity, supported by environmental effects like the hustle and bustle of a busy street market, children playing and singing, and the downpour from a torrential rainstorm.

Disney's single-disc Blu-ray release includes an iTunes digital copy and the following Blu-ray extras:

  • Queen of Katwe: Their Story (29:39) - A three-part featurette ("A Spark of Inspiration," "Those Who Guide" and "The Future Is Bright") that covers how Producer Tendo Nagenda and Director Mira Nair brought authenticity to the project, Lupita Nyong'o's and David Oyelowo's characters and the actors' mentorship of their younger castmates, and the performances of newcomers Mandina Nalwanga and Martin Kabanza.
  • Audio Commentary - Director Mira Nair talks about the film's music, the cast and their performances, the true story behind the movie, filming on-location, the production design, the cinematography and more.
  • A Fork, A Spoon & A Knight (13:14) - Produced prior to the movie, this short film by Mira Nair and Zippy Kimundu chronicles the life of Robert Katende.
  • Music (15:22) - A behind-the-scenes making-of featurette ("In The Studio With Alicia Keys") and two music videos ("Alicia Keys 'Back To Life' Lyric Video" and "Young Cardamom & HAB '#1 Spice' Music Video").
  • Deleted Scenes (20:25) - Eight scenes, playable with introductions by Director Mira Nair ("Graduation," "Job Application," "Dancing and Rent," "Entering The Hospital," "Escape From The Hospital," "They Can't Go To Budo," "Flood (Extended Scene)" and "Phiona's Chess Club").

Queen of Katwe is available from Walt Disney Home Entertainment as of January 31st, 2017. The Blu-ray features English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Descriptive Audio tracks. The film is presented with English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. The total runtime is 2 Hrs. 4 Mins.

* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original TIFF review, published on September 11th, 2016.

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