Citizen Kane is considered by many to be the greatest film ever made. This is both the film’s greatest selling point and, for many, its biggest detractor. I’m not going to try and sell the film. If you’ve seen it and didn’t like it I would only ask that you watch it again, not as the “greatest film ever made” but as a daring piece of cinema from a young, ambitious and, perhaps, naïve filmmaker that was given an unthinkable amount of control over his first picture. Orson Welles, director and co-writer of Citizen Kane, was after all an unproven commodity. Welles had certainly established himself in theatrical and radio circles but had yet to venture into the world of cinema. Nonetheless RKO Pictures signed Welles to a two-picture deal almost complete control, including privilege of final cut, over the films that he would make. After failed attempts at adapting the novels Heart of Darkness and the lesser-known The Smiler With The Knife Welles set out to write an original screenplay with Herman J. Mankiewicz. The results were Citizen Kane.
Following the death of media mogul Charles Foster (Welles) Reporter Jerry Thompson (William Alland) attempts to uncover who Foster was and why his last word was “Rosebud.” Through interviews with Foster’s staff Thompson learns the sad truth about a man who seemingly could have anything but died completely alone.
Warner’s new Blu-ray release of the film is taken from an all-new 4K restoration. When compared to the 2003 Warner DVD release the Blu-ray displays a substantial improvement in detail and fixes the brightness issues and overzealous image scrubbing giving the image a nice amount of grain. They’ve also improved the audio with a lossless mono track. The Blu-ray also includes all of the bonus features found on the DVD including the audio commentaries from Roger Ebert and Peter Bogdanovich, interviews with Ruth Warrick and Rovert Wise and a selection of production footage and still photography and a very brief look at the post-production process with deleted scenes.
Of course the the story of Citizen Kane extends far beyond the film itself. Included in the Ultimate Collector’s Edition are two bonus DVDS. One contains the documentary Battle Over Citizen Kane and the other features the HBO film RKO 281, a dramatized telling of the fight that Welles, Mankiewicz and RKO studio head George Schaefer were forced to wage against publisher William Randolph Hearst who may or may not have been the basis for the character Charles Foster Kane. Battle Over Citizen Kane as been criticized for being too simplistic in its comparison of Welles and Schaefer but still makes for a good watch. RKO 281, which stars Live Schreiber as Welles and James Cromwell as Hearst, is quite good and deserving of its Golden Globe Award for Best Miniseries or Television Film but isn’t quite the cinematic masterpiece that Welles’ life and film deserve.
The Ultimate Collector’s Edition also includes a selection of lobby cards, a reproduction of the 20-page souvenir program (which is a little difficult to read due to the size of the text), reproductions of various studio memos (budget estimates, press releases etc.) and a 48-page book with production photos and behind-the-scenes info. It’s not as elaborate as Warner’s box set releases of The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the Wind but is very similar to what they included in the Casablanca set.