Review: 'Citizen Kane' in 4K a Triumph of Technology

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday December 6, 2021

It's remarkably easy to point at Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" and say that there's no other film that reaches that caliber — and rightfully so, to an extent. So much of film culture is about prioritization, rather than the constructive dialogue that can come from exploring the historical and aesthetic significance of a film, although Welles' debut feature can't be brought up without mention of its technical marvels, so there's a salve there of some sort. And still after 80 years, the story of a man of great ideals becoming corrupted by his passions rings truer than ever. The American way is to become embittered, obsessive, and devoted only to yourself. Yes, I understand that's a stretch of an expectation in emotional terms, but it can perhaps illustrate just how dour and fatal "Citizen Kane" can feel.

The Criterion Collection makes their 4K Ultra HD debut with none other than Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane," the still-omnipresent feature debut from Welles that's held up in American culture as the greatest American film ever made. The 4K presentation is culled from a 4K restoration that's in itself a fascinating story of complicated archival work. With no existing original camera negative existing any more — recent reports indicate the negative was sent to a reclamation plant to extract its valuable silver due to a clerical error — Criterion used the 35mm nitrate composite fine-grain master made from the original negative in 1941 and used another 35mm duplicate negative to fill in instances of heavy damage on the master.

The 4K presentation here is, of course, nothing short of stunning. The depth of contrast achieved by the Dolby Vision HDR encode cannot be understated. For a film that offers some of the most beautiful sequences of deep focus ever committed to celluloid, the 4K resolution and HDR help to further define all of the incredible textures used throughout. It achieves a rather astonishing effect, compared to previous Blu-ray releases. But for those wondering if the presentation mars the inherent filmic look, it does not at all. Simply put, this is the best "Citizen Kane" has ever looked at home.

As is Criterion's wont, there's an expansive list of special features included in this four-disc edition — 4K Blu-ray of the feature, 1080p Blu-ray of the feature, and two extra Blu-rays for special features — that further illustrates the impact and legacy that "Citizen Kane" has left in its wake. Noticeable here is the exhaustive essay written by film critic Bilge Ebiri that eloquently puts into perspective the ranking of "Citizen Kane" in the cultural canon, the inception of the film, and its production and reception, all in one fell swoop.

One thing to note is that an issue has been reported about the Blu-ray and Criterion has already issued a replacement program for discs affected. Other than that one small hiccup, this is an essential release of the American film that still towers over the rest.

Other special features include:

• Three audio commentaries: from 2021 featuring Orson Welles scholars James Naremore and Jonathan Rosenbaum; from 2002 featuring filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich; and from 2002 featuring film critic Roger Ebert
• "The Complete "Citizen Kane"" (1991) -- a rarely seen feature-length BBC documentary
• New interviews with critic Farran Smith Nehme and film scholar Racquel J. Gates
• New video essay by Orson Welles scholar Robert Carringer
• New program on the film's special effects by film scholars and effects experts Craig Barron and Ben Burtt
• Interviews from 1990 with editor Robert Wise; actor Ruth Warrick; optical-effects designer Linwood Dunn; Bogdanovich; filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Henry Jaglom, Martin Ritt, and Frank Marshall; and cinematographers Allen Daviau, Gary Graver, and Vilmos Zsigmond
• New documentary featuring archival interviews with Welles
• Interviews with actor Joseph Cotten from 1966 and 1975
• "The Hearts of Age" — A brief silent film made by Welles as a student in 1934
• Television programs from 1979 and 1988 featuring appearances by Welles and Mercury Theatre producer John Houseman
• Program featuring a 1996 interview with actor William Alland on his collaborations with Welles
• Selection of The Mercury Theatre on the Air radio plays featuring many of the actors from Citizen Kane
• Trailer
• English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing


"Citizen Kane" is now available on 4K Blu-ray and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.