Citizen Kane appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though not a total slam-dunk, I thought the transfer offered a fine reproduction of the source photography.
The challenging source photography, I should say. Gregg Toland’s legendary cinematography offered unusually expanded depth of field so that even in many wide shots, all elements remained in focus.
This worked well for the movie but created potential difficulties for the transfer, especially in darker interiors. When seen in brighter shots, Toland’s work looked crisp and detailed, but with those dimmer scenes, the images could seem a little more tentative.
But not soft, per se. While the movie’s definition depended a lot on lighting, it still always seemed more than adequate. Not every movie is supposed to demonstrate tight detail at all times, so the sharpness on display here was solid and seemed like an accurate representation of the original photography.
Print flaws looked almost entirely absent. Really, the only marks appeared during the “March of Time” newsreel viewed at the start of the film, and those instances seemed to be intentional. I thought these defects were oddly inconsistent; they looked very heavy in some scenes but they were pretty much absent in others, which made me wonder how much of them were intentional and how many had cropped up over the years.
Nonetheless, all segments that didn’t use newsreel footage were clean. I didn’t discern any defects once we left the opening sequence; if any specks or marks appeared, I didn’t notice them.
Edge haloes were a minor nuisance and one that I have come to suspect resulted from the original photography. I noted some of these when I reviewed the original DVD, and they persisted on occasion, though to a lesser degree than what I saw on that 2001 release. A few high-contrast shots demonstrated light haloes, but these weren’t a substantial distraction.
The Blu-ray came without obvious signs of noise reduction. Grain appeared natural and suitable for a film of this one’s age and visual aspirations. I thought grain was always appropriate.
Black levels looked nicely deep and rich, and contrast was clean and distinct. Shadow detail also looked fine. As I noted, some low-light interiors could seem a smidgen soft, but that was an apparent artifact of the original photography; within the dark scenes, the elements appeared appropriately visible. In the end, this was a strong take on the film’s complicated visuals.
The DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Citizen Kane hasn’t held up as well as the picture, but it still seemed solid for its age. Dialogue sounded reasonably distinct and accurate, without notable edginess. While I’d not describe the lines as especially natural, they always seemed totally intelligible and lacked any concerns.
The rest of the mix seemed to be fairly clear and relatively robust for the era. Music and effects sounded reasonably lively and bright, and they showed pretty nice depth considering their age. The track lacked any discernible background noise, as I detected no popping, hiss, crackling or other issues. Ultimately, the audio appeared to be quite good and represented the material well.
How did this 2016 “75th Anniversary” Blu-Ray compare with the original Blu-ray from 2011? Both were identical – literally. The 2016 version just replicates Disc One from the 2011 set.
That means the Blu-ray includes all of Disc One’s extras, and the package highlights two separate audio commentaries. First we find a track from film critic Roger Ebert, who provides a running, fairly screen-specific piece. At times Ebert tends to repeat himself, which he recognizes; for example, he frequently tells us about the technique in which the observer of each sequence sits in the lower right corner of the frame.
Despite some redundant information, Ebert’s obvious enthusiasm for the subject helps make the piece vivid, and he adds a lot of solid interpretation and insight for those listeners relatively new to the details of the film. Ebert mixes technical details with background information and his thoughts about the techniques. This isn’t the most illuminating track I’ve heard, but it helps flesh out the movie and offers an enjoyable experience.
I will note one curious aspect of the Ebert commentary, though. At times he espouses the notion that Rosebud gives us nothing more than a gimmick and a red herring. On other occasions he seems to concur with the notion that Rosebud represents Kane’s lost childhood, which means Ebert appears to go along with the same thoughts I mentioned in my review. In any case, I’m sticking with my own interpretation, darn it!
In addition, we get a second audio commentary from filmmaker/Welles biographer Peter Bogdanovich. He also adds a running, screen-specific piece, but this one seems less compelling than the effort provided by Ebert.
I can’t blame Bogdanovich totally for the decline, as some of my disenchantment occurs due to the order in which I listened to the two tracks. Bogdanovich echoes many of the same remarks offered by Ebert, but this redundancy could have worked in the opposite direction had I screened the Ebert commentary initially.
Bogdanovich also tends to simply describe the onscreen action to a certain degree; some directorial insight occurs, but not a tremendous amount. However, Bogdanovich is able to inject some good information, mainly via anecdotes that relate to his discussions with Welles. This contributes greater depth to the subject and brings some intimacy to the subject.
Bogdanovich also inserts some insight not found during Ebert’s track, though I think Roger’s chat is superior in that regard. Ebert also fills his time better, as Bogdanovich’s piece suffers from a few too many blank spots, and a modicum of his statements deliver obvious descriptions of the action on screen. Nonetheless, this is a fairly interesting commentary, as Bogdanovich adds enough good information to make the track worth a listen.
Interestingly, unlike Ebert, Bogdanovich doesn’t think that Kane was the best movie ever made, or even Welles’ greatest film. Unfortunately, he doesn’t go into depth about the flicks he thinks top Kane, but this still becomes an interesting revelation, especially since it goes against the common opinion.
While the two commentaries provide Disc One’s most significant extras, we also discover a number of minor pieces. The Opening: World Premiere of Citizen Kane shows a one-minute, eight-second newsreel clip from that event.
Unfortunately, all we see are some plain shots from the theater and we hear no commentary about the action. Also, the actual premiere footage only fills the second half of the brief piece, so it’s not very valuable.
Much more interesting is the film’s theatrical trailer. This three-minute, 46-second ad featured material created exclusively for the promo, and it’s very entertaining. Welles remained off-camera but narrated the piece and made it wonderfully snide and mocking. I think it’s a clever and provocative trailer.
Presented as Easter eggs on the 2001 DVD, we get two interviews. The first gives us a 1997 chat with actress Ruth Warrick. During this five-minute, 40-second piece, Warrick discusses issues such as the atmosphere on the Kane set, her interactions with Welles, and a few other interesting topics. It’s a neat little addition.
We also find a 1994 interview snippet with editor Robert Wise. During this three-minute, four-second piece, Wise reveals how he got the job, and he also talks about the uproar that greeted its take on Hearst. It’s also a minor extra, but it’s fun to get.
A slew of text and stillframe materials make up the rest of the extras. These are split into two areas: “The Production” and “Post Production”.
The Production includes three subsections. Storyboards consists of 24 frames of information, though it’s presented as a three-minute, 20-second running montage through which you can use the “chapter skip” button to maneuver.
In addition to some boards - which depict the scene in which we go from Kane’s political campaign to the confrontation at Susan’s apartment - we see some production art and shots from the film. These were interesting to see, though they didn’t reveal a great deal of nuance about the production.
Call Sheets (0:48) takes up five frames. These are modestly useful historical pieces, as they show some day-to-day details of the production.
More interesting are the images in the Still Gallery (10:53). Actually, those photos are nothing special, but they’re rendered more compelling because they come with commentary from Roger Ebert.
All of these stillframe archives can be viewed either picture-by-picture or as running video pieces, but only the “Still Gallery” comes with audio accompaniment. Ebert adds a decent overview of the production and some thoughts about the movie. The photos only last for the first five and a half minutes of the program; Ebert’s remarks continue for the remaining time.
Post Production includes four subsections. Deleted Scenes (1:12) contains eight screens. These give us a little information about two sequences that didn’t make the film. Ad Campaigns (1:36) gives us 11 screens of posters and other materials. Most interesting is a note that discusses the reactions to Kane of various demographics.
Press Book (0:48) tosses in five images from a program offered at the film’s New York and Los Angeles premieres, while Opening Night (1:36) adds 11 frames that also related to the premiere and other areas. Most compelling in that section are some fan letters that praised the flick, notes from RKO president George Schaefer, and a premiere-related guest list. This section was one of the most intriguing of the bunch.
As mentioned earlier, the “75th Anniversary” Kane reproduces Disc One of the 2011 release. It loses a documentary called The Battle Over “Citizen Kane”, the 1999 docu-drama RKO 281 and some non-disc-based materials.
Possibly the most praised film in history, Citizen Kane remains an excellent experience 75 years after its initial release. The movie has aged quite well, and its stylistic techniques seem dynamic and compelling to this day. The Blu-ray offers excellent visuals, good audio and an informative array of supplements.
Kane offers a terrific Blu-ray, but fans who own the prior release don’t need this “75th Anniversary” release, as it simply reproduces Disc One from a prior version. I prefer the more deluxe “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” from 2011 but this cheaper 2016 release satisfies as well.
To rate this film, visit the 60th Anniversary Edition review of CITIZEN KANE