‘Citizen Kane’ Blu-ray review

By Daniel S Levine,
The Blu-ray itself is impressive, but the extra DVDs and paper products are not

Orson Welles’ debut film, Citizen Kane, is widely considered the greatest film of all time. While that is a heavy title to live up to, especially considering the 70 years of filmmaking that have followed its 1941 premiere, it holds up so well. It is still fun (and even funny) and thanks to being so well-made, it can probably be called the greatest film for another 70 years.

Citizen Kane, for those who have not had the pleasure of seeing it, is about the life of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper magnate whose life may or may not have been based on William Randolph Heast’s. Clearly, some of Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, who co-wrote the screenplay, ideas came from Heast’s life, but Kane is a much more interesting character who defined the time that he lived in, and was troubled by layers of personal problems. Welles and Mankiewicz’s story is ground-breaking in that we are given pieces to a puzzle, but only the audience can interpret what they all come together to make.

All of the actors in the film would go on to have fantastic careers after Kane and their performances make it easy to see why. Joseph Cotten went on to become a great leading man, starring in such fine films as The Third Man. The rest would become fantastic character actors, like Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead (check her out in the Bogart/Bacall film Dark Passage) and Ray Collins.

Then, there is the masterful cinematography by Gregg Toland. His work with lights and darks really pop on the Blu-ray, much better than they did on the DVD. The deep focus photography, the camera movements, and tricks all make a big impact, as they did when Toland first photographed the film.

The Blu-ray really does look substantially better than the 2001 DVD. That edition was cleaned up so much so that you could see the reporters’ faces in the beginning (you’re not supposed to) and that rain was even mistook for damage and removed! All those great effects are back here, making the film look like it did 70 years ago.

Where the set really disappoints is in the features department. Sure, all of the orginal DVD features are here, including Roger Ebert’s magnificent commentary, but there is nothing new. Warner also throws in a DVD copy of The Battle Over Citizen Kane, which attempts to convince the audience that Hearst and Welles actually had things in common. It also tells us that Welles never made any thing as good as Kane, ignoring masterpieces like The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil and F For Fake. Also on DVD is an HBO movie called RKO 281, a very fictionalized telling of the production.

There is also a bunch of recyclable paper products thrown in, like lobby cards, reproductions of posters, contracts and a theater program, as well as a 48-page hardcover book that looks nice, but has a useless essay inside.

For those that order the Amazon exclusive edition, also included is a DVD of Welles’ 1942 masterpiece The Magnificent Ambersons, which deserves much more than a features-less, single-layered disc.

Citizen Kane still mystifies and wows audiences 70 years later. While the Blu-ray itself is magnificent, the ‘Ultimate Collector’s Edition’ bonuses are rather useless. Unless you need to see this right now, wait until Warner releases the Blu-ray itself, like they did with The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind.

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