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Citizen Kane: Special Edition

Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 25, 2001
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Aaron Beierle | posted September 30, 2001 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

I simply don't think I can discuss anything about "Citizen Kane" that hasn't been discussed often in the past. The film has been voted into the number one spot on the AFI top 100 films list and generally is regarded as one of the best American films of all time. I was suprised though, to see that internet users on the Internet Movie Database have voted three other pictures higher than "Kane" as of this review: "Schindler's List", "Shawshank Redemption" and "The Godfather". Where it seems that many filmmakers get final cut and remarkable control over their often big-budget pictures today, it was amazing for a young filmmaker like director Orson Welles to get such control when "Kane" was made in 1941. Not only did he get such control, he was essentially given the keys to the studio, who told him that he could make any picture he wanted.

The film has been discussed and analyzed endlessly and rightly so, as there's such a marvelous amount of detail to the film's proceedings. Gregg Toland's black and white cinematography is nothing short of brilliant, with remarkable compositions and terrific use of shadows and light. The film has very good sound (Welles came from a radio background), wonderful matte work and superb sets and special effects. Nearly all of the elements were groundbreaking for the time and still are strong today. Editor Robert Wise went on to have a lengthy career, as well, directing "Star Trek: The Motion Picture", whose upcoming special edition he has been recently involved with.

Based mildly on the life of William Randolph Hearst, the picture stars Welles as Charles Foster Kane, the head of a newspaper empire. Hearst was decidedly not pleased, and "Kane"'s release was heavily controversial. Although Welles certainly went on to act in and direct other pictures, none of them really had the same magic or left the same impression that "Kane" did. Tragically, studios never gave him the same amount of control again and, in fact, often took control themselves on the director's future pictures. This can be seen in further detail on the second disc of the set, which features the documentary "The Battle Over Citizen Kane".

An outstanding achievement and a triumph, "Citizen Kane" simply is a film that not only combines richly detailed performances and characters, it is also a technical achievement, with sequence after sequence and scene after scene of beautifully composed images. A very highly awaited DVD release, Warner Brothers has really done fine work, providing both strong audio/video quality and some excellent supplemental features, especially Roger Ebert's incredibly informative commentary.


VIDEO: "Citizen Kane" is presented in its original 1.33:1 full_frame aspect ratio. The transfer from Warner Brothers is nothing short of remarkable. The picture has never looked better and the few minor flaws that keep this presentation from being truly beautiful is unfortunate, because its simply not necessary. Sharpness and detail are really very strong, as the black and white presentation appeared consistently well-defined and crisp.

Print flaws were suprisingly completely absent. There are a few moments of stock footage here and there that are intentionally scratched, but the main body of the film itself appeared stunningly clean, showing no signs of speckles, marks or scratches. There were no instances of pixelation either. But...and many will probably predict where I'm headed - edge enhancement does unfortunately appear in a few sequences. The film looked otherwise so grand that I really don't know why it was felt that this was needed.

SOUND: As amazing as the image quality often is, the sound quality doesn't quite manage to impress as much. Still, the audio quality was often quite enjoyable. The studio has thankfully decided not to redo the picture in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although I'm not sure that would even work with the elements that are still around, the newly remastered mono presentation is appropriate and actually quite good. Bernard Herrmann's fantastic score sounds crisp, clear and warm, the film's sound details and touches are easily heard and dialogue also still sounded strong.

MENUS:: Warner Brothers has provided subtle, elegant main menus for "Citizen Kane", with some light animation. Sub-menus are not animated, but are still strong and enjoyable, using film images.

Commentary: This is a commentary from film critic Roger Ebert. I've been endlessly awaiting another commentary track from Ebert after his track on New Line's "Dark City" special edition. Although some may disagree with the critic's opinion on current films, there's little denying that he is incredibly knowledgable on film and is able to offer a stunning about of detail about films that he's familiar with. The "Dark City" commentary had Ebert providing tons of detail about a film whose production he wasn't even involved with and "Kane" finds Ebert providing a similarly in-depth track that points out as many notes on the film as he can fit in from scene-to-scene. His commentary fills nearly the entire track, with the only pauses seemingly only for the task of taking a breath before discussing the next sequence. Ebert is marvelously well-prepared (he has gone over every scene with audiences often in the past) and tells the viewer an almost amazing amount of information about the film's technical and production details as well as notes about the actors and their performances. Occasionally, he does repeat himself and admits to doing so, but he's simply pointing out necessary elements.

Hopefully, Ebert will provide more commentaries in the future, because not only is he an enthusiastic and energetic speaker who is fascinating to listen to, he is able to discuss and analyze pictures magnificently. A must-listen track.

Commentary: This is an additional commentary by director Peter Bogdanovich, who provides an informative, but less detailed and energetic commentary than Ebert's. Although Bogdanovich has apparently written about Welles and conducted interviews with him, Ebert has seemingly studied the picture more often and in greater depth during the events where he had gone over the film step-by-step with an audience. Bogdanovich also leaves some gaps of silence occasionally during the commentary, as well. The track is still certainly interesting, but I did tend to tune out at times, where the Ebert commentary had me more engaged with his enthusiasm about talking about the film.

Production: One of the other sections on disc one, this area offers storyboards and call sheets for the film, along with a moving still gallery that has running commentary from Roger Ebert. Ebert's commentary here actually goes quite a bit after the set of images has run out.

Post Production: This section allows the viewer to see storyboards and images from deleted footage, including the infamous censored "brothel" sequence. Also in this section are materials from the film's ad campaign, opening night text info and the original "press book".

Also on Disc One: Cast/crew bios, New York premiere footage, theatrical trailer, production notes and...highlight the sled in the "special features" menu and click to see a hidden feature.

The Battle Over Citizen Kane: This 113 minute documentary that was produced for PBS takes detailed looks at both William Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles. Often using clips and narration, the documentary still is able to find quite a few people who were either involved or have something to say about either of the two figures, such as "Kane" editor Robert Wise and Bogdanovich. The documentary starts off with a look at the lives and careers of the Hearst and Welles, which is generally interesting, especially some of the details about Welles's early works. Although I enjoyed the early half that discusses the lives of the two men, as the second hour begins, the documentary becomes more interesting as it discusses the film's production. A very enjoyable and in-depth piece, "Battle Over Citizen Kane" really does pack a solid amount of information into its nearly two-hour running time.

also: Web-link, WGBH catalog request, Welles filmography.

Final Thoughts: An important, incredible and stunning picture, "Citizen Kane" is really an amazing effort from Welles. Restored in glorious fashion, the audio/video quality on this new DVD presentation is phenomenal. With the incredible wealth of supplements included, Warner's new DVD is simply a must.

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