There are literally hundreds of thousands of movies out there, perhaps more. Anyone who aspires to make a film most likely wants it to be good. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case and, more to the point, it’s a rarity that films are widely acclaimed by the masses. Well this is it. This is what all movies aspire to be. This, my friends, is “Citizen Kane.” The film has been hailed as the best movie of all-time for the last 50 years when the British Film Institute started doing a list a decade of their top 10 best movies. This topped the list in the 1960 poll and has never once has been dethroned. The American Film Institute has also placed the moniker of “Best Movie Ever Made” on the film in both of its polls (1998 and 2007) and it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see this movie fall from the top spot in either poll any time soon. Now if you fancy yourself a critic, this is a movie that you really must see. Yes, there are “event” movies that I’ve still yet to see in their entirety like “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Gone With the Wind” but “Citizen Kane” is simply a cut above.
I suppose I’ll try and give an overview of the plot, though I’ve talked to some people who could write books about this movie (and wouldn’t you know it, film director and Welles biographer, Peter Bogdanovich has his own commentary track on the disc – we’ll get to that later). Unlike most movies, “Citizen Kane” starts from the “end”. We see the house of Xanadu where Kane has secluded himself in his old age. We hear that infamous last word of Kane, “Rosebud”. Personally, I think that this is highly overrated. I think that too much emphasis has been placed on this last word as it really has nothing to do with the story. Granted, that’s just my opinion and I’ve only seen the film three times so far (once as a viewing and two more times while listening to the commentaries). So I could be (and probably am) wrong in my early assumption. The early part of the film flows like a newsreel, in fact, that’s what it is. The film about the rise and eventual fall of media tycoon, Citizen Kane. We are introduced to him as he dies, but the film takes us back and shows us his rise to power.
There’s no denying that “Citizen Kane” is a masterpiece and a generally great movie. However when people find out about me and this site, talk has turned to this movie and its long-lasting impression on pop culture and the film community at large. Quite simply I’m often asked “what is it about ‘Citizen Kane’ that makes the movie so good?” Now that’s actually a really good question. Having seen the movie, it is well made and well-acted. But that’s it. I think what makes the movie so great is that it was a pioneer in so many ways. Before the movie came out movies were just…different. What “Citizen Kane” did was that it changed the way films were made. It had new ways of shooting shots, focus, different methods of lighting and make up. Things that are so common place in films today simply didn’t exist before they did with this film. In a way I look at a movie like “Toy Story” in much the same light that I do as “Citizen Kane” in that, before “Toy Story” there really was no other movie like it. “Citizen Kane” is a classic and will remain as such since there’s nothing that can take away from the allure of the story and what the film has accomplished. If you’re at all serious about movies, this is one you just have to see. I can’t say it any better than that.
Video: How does it look?
I vividly remember watching the 60th Anniversary Edition on DVD and being in awe of how good a movie of that age looked. Well another decade has passed us by and, wouldn’t you know it, we’ve now got “Citizen Kane” on Blu-ray. To the untrained eye, it might appear that both the DVD and Blu-ray seem rather similar. Yes, they both look good but “Citizen Kane” has undergone a 4K restoration for this new Blu-ray and I’m hard-pressed to find anything wrong with it. Again, let’s consider the age of the movie. This 1.33:1 AVC HD transfer is simply stunning in every respect and for a movie as visually aggressive (in glorious black and white, no less) as this, I can’t imagine a better platform than Blu-ray. Black levels are spot on and contrast is as well. There are a few scenes with some grain associated with them, but when you consider the filmmakers literally dragged the negatives on the ground to give the movie an “aged” look, it’s understandable. Now, granted, this is the jewel in Warner’s crown so of course they’ll treat it with the utmost respect, but for anyone out there that’s never seen the film – it’s never looked better.
Audio: How does it sound?
Uncompressed sound is a great thing and I’m usually in favor of involving every channel in my house to justify my purchase of all the A/V gear. Thankfully Warner has a lot more common sense than me and has utilized a DTS HD Master Audio 1.0 soundtrack. Yes, we only get one channel, but the sound emanating from it sounds rich and natural. This film was made far before the multi-channel soundtracks that we have today and suffers by comparison. But when you consider what you’re listening to, it doesn’t sound that bad. Vocals are rich and warm and there’s even a few songs that liven up the film. I didn’t detect a ‘hiss’ that’s sometimes associated with films of the era. This soundtrack won’t blow the roof off the place, but I was pleasantly surprised with how this mono track sounded.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The original two-disc DVD released in 2001 for the film’s 60th anniversary featured a great assortment of supplements and those are all found here. Unfortunately we don’t find anything new here, save for the addition of “RKO 281”, something that should have been on the last set. Having said that, here’s what we can expect from this new Blu-ray edition. We start off with not one, but two commentaries. The first is by noted film critic Roger Ebert. And Ebert, who is an avid fan of DVD, has laid down tracks for some other movies as well. I figure if anyone knows about Orson Welles and Citizen Kane, it’s Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich (who comments on the discs’ second track). Right off the bat, I was interested in Ebert’s commentary. He’s seen the films an unquestionable amount of times and is familiar with most every frame of it. Even his little observations are interesting. Such as in the first few minutes of the movie, he remarks that the light in the Xanadu house is always in the same place on the screen. And it sure is. Little things like that make the movie all the more interesting and fun to watch. And it’s a lot more fun to watch when you have experts talking throughout the movie. The second track is by Welles biographer and director (The Last Picture Show), Peter Bogdanovich. Bogdanovich’s commentary isn’t as interesting as Ebert’s, as he just notes what is happening on screen. It’s interesting though, and he does know his stuff. But if you were to listen to only one track, choose Roger Ebert’s. Also included on the first disc are some little goodies. You’ll notice a little sled on the screen and while I won’t divulge it’s meaning, click on it and you’re in for a treat. The original newsreel footage of the film’s 1941 premier is also included as is the theatrical trailer hosted by Welles himself. I liked the trailer as he took the time to introduce members of the cast and made little comments like “You’ll be seeing more of her, that’s for sure”. Unlike his character in the movie, Welles seemed excited about the project and it shows in this trailer. Some still galleries are included, narrated by Roger Ebert as well. I think they move a bit too fast, but that’s just me. Have a remote handy.
We do get the Award winning “The Battle Over Citzen Kane” as included with the first set and as I mentioned earlier, we do now have “RKO 281” starring Live Schrieber as Orson Welles. We have some interviews with director Robert Wise and Ruth Warrick as well as some deleted scenes in the form of photos and storyboards. The original theatrical trailer is also included (compare the quality of this versus the movie itself) and Warner has also thrown in some lobby cards, a 48 page book similar to what they’ve offered in their “DigiBook” series of Blu-ray’s. There’s a reproduction of some studio memos as well as a 20 page souvenir program. This movie can also be purchased at Amazon.com and you’ll receive “The Magnificent Amberson’s”, Welles’ follow-up to “Citizen Kane” and nearly as good to boot.