Citizen Kane (1941) | 4K Blu-ray Review

UPDATE (1/29/2022): As replacement discs for Disc 1, which includes the 1080p version of the film, have arrived. I have updated the review below to include the Blu-ray section and video score.

ORIGINAL: It was fitting to see Criterion’s spine 001 from their LaserDisc days make a new entry as an early release in their jump to 4K. While plenty of past anniversary releases have proven to be quite good, this is also the first time the film has hit the premium physical format, so let’s check out how this looks and sounds, but also what we got from Criterion in the form of extras.

If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

Citizen Kane, 4K Blu-ray cover art

Tech Specs:

Format(s):UltraHD/4K Blu-ray (BD-100)
Blu-ray (3x BD-50)
Released By:Criterion Collection
Release Date:November 23rd, 2021
Video Format / Codec:4K: H.265 (HEVC)
Resolution:4K: Native 4K, 2160/24p
BR: Full HD, 1080/24p
Digital Intermediate (DI):4K (from nitrate composite fine-grain master)
High-Dynamic Range (HDR):Dolby Vision (FEL), HDR10
Aspect Ratio:1.37:1
Audio Format(s):4K/BR:
English: LPCM 1.0 Mono (24-bit)
Subtitles:English, English SDH
Packaging:4 Disc Custom Digipack with slipcover*
Region Coding:4K: Region-free
BR: Region A (locked)

Video Review:

Unfortunately, as far as is known, the original 35mm negatives for this cinematic legend no longer exist today and so Criterion performed their restoration work from scans of the nitrate composite fine-grain master taken from the original negatives in terms of details. They also referenced existing high quality prints, as well as other team previous restoration work to try to match the original’s color grade. I should also point out that this film and the original capture are now 80 years old, so the continued work to salvage this film and preserve it for generations to come is always appreciated.

Overall their efforts were well worth it with a very highly refined picture coming to life on this 4K disc. Given the age of the movie, the film and lens available to Orson Welles and his team, the amount of detail extracted is impressive and gives proper tribute to the film. Costuming, elaborate set pieces, matte painted backgrounds and scenes, in addition to the details in characters’ faces,  all see a high level of detail revealing textures, refined edges and a natural appearance (with exception of some more obvious uses of makeup aging some of the characters).

Previously the highest quality we have seen of this film was from the Warner Bros 70th anniversary (and subsequent 75th anniversary) release which also came from a 4K restoration, albeit separate from the one used here by Criterion. The Warner Bros release is also excellent, but in several areas on the detail front this 4K release tops it, just being that much sharper and a bit more refined in the grain structure throughout the film (and YES this should absolutely have visible grain, and it is very well handled and organic even in the heaviest of scenes).

The color grade on this release is very well presented through the film with the numerous shades of gray on screen being very well presented, smooth and not overblown. The Dolby Vision enabled encode (and similarly the HDR10 base) does a nice job of driving many of the intentionally dark shadows down, but there are a few minor instances where some details (like the re-use of some actors as extras in the screening room scene) were a bit too revealing, but unless you are looking for them, it would not be overtly obvious. Another minor nitpick were a few highlights that seemed to get a touch too hot and lost some fine detail, but this was only a couple of scenes and 98% of the movie looks fantastic.

UPDATE (1/29/2022): The replacement Blu-ray disc has now started making it out to owners of the original pressing with the flawed disc. Thankfully the image quality is what we were expecting and it looks quite good, even starting to rival the 4K version of the film. Given the limitations of the source material, and the care Criterion (typically) puts into their releases, it is not surprise that there is not a huge different. I will say the 4K is still the better of the two, but it’s not a massive difference.

ORIGINAL: There is an included Blu-ray, which contains the 1080p version of the film. Unfortunately there is an issue with the picture on the disc, likely caused by the conversion from high dynamic range to standard dynamic range for the 1080p disc. And even worse is that it is not subtle. Just shy of 30 minutes into the movie, we lose a tremendous amount of dynamic range with everything becoming darker, grayer and flatter and it continues that way through the rest of the film. 

Thankfully, Criterion was alerted by early viewers of the release, has acknowledged the issue with Blu-ray Disc 1, and has already set up a disc replacement program (when the new disc is available) for folks who did get their copies from this initial release. I would have no doubt Criterion will fix this in future pressings, but if you did get a copy, or want to grab this now to take care of sales prices, just know you will want to get that disc replaced. All other discs in the set are completely unaffected.

I’m really not sure how this made it through any sort of quality control process, but I will give kudos to Criterion for their quick action in acknowledging and taking action (even announcing the disc replacement before the official street date.)

NOTE: As highlighted in the review, there is a known issue with the standard Blu-ray version of the movie in the initial release of this set. Criterion has already established a disc replacement program for those affected. The 4K disc and bonus feature discs are unaffected.

If you own this original pressing, to get your replacement disc, check here: Criterion Citizen Kane Replacement

Video Score (4K): 4.7 / 5

Video Score (BR – replaced): 4.5 / 5

Audio Review:

On both discs for the movie we get an uncompressed LPCM mono (1.0) track taken from restoration work of the original optical audio elements from the fine grain master. Overall this is the best and most revealing (more on that) this audio track has ever sounded.  Dialog is very clear, music sounds full and balanced and, for the most part, it sounds as a movie of this vintage should sound, which is organic. Bass in the music is certainly present. Assuming you are not upmixing this track to stereo or beyond (please don’t) any decent center channel should be able to support the range of this track, with smaller speakers getting an assist from a properly crossed-over sub. As much good as there is in the audio, there are clearly some flaws in the original track (and maybe even recording). Given the quality of this track, those flaws are also that much better resolved, but in casual watching/listening of the film, I doubt only the rare viewer would notice or be bothered.

Audio Score (4K/BR): 4.2 / 5

Special Features and Packaging:

Criterion has gone all out on special features on this release packaging a huge list of extras onto all 4 discs. The 3 audio commentary tracks are found on both feature discs, and the 2 additional Blu-rays are jam packed with both new and archival documentaries, featurettes, video essays, critiques, still photographs, news footage, trailers, interviews, and more. All of it is incredibly well done, engaging, rewatchable and insightful. On top of that we also get a physical booklet containing a printed essay and technical details and credits for the restoration work.  If you are a fan of the film there is a lot here dive into and enjoy

For packaging, when Criterion first put out cover art images for this release, it caught a lot of flack for just having a big gray “K” on the cover, but once you have it in hand the creative decision makes much more sense. Upon removing the slipcover, you are presented with the same K, but as you begin to open each flap you are presented with an “A” then an “N”, and lastly the “E” before finally getting to the booklet inside. All 4 discs are housed in the four image-containing flaps and are all labelled accordingly. So I get it. And I personally like the creative design aesthetic, but I do also take issue any time a disc has to be slid out from inside a cardboard flap with no way of removing the disc without putting your fingers on the surface. Thankfully the inside of the flaps are glossy, a quick wipe with a microfiber cloth takes the fingerprints off. I just get visions of a small hard fleck of dirt or dust getting accidentally introduced and that disc getting scratched. Also, unless you really open the flap up past 180 degrees (which feels like it will just weaken the creases), it is more challenging to access the discs unless you open up everything and remove the booklet. Visually pleasing, but functionally flawed.

With some minor packaging changes this set would have absolutely received 5.0 out of 5, but unfortunately I have to knock it down a little.

Features Score: 4.6 / 5


If you don’t own this film, this set is a no-brainer to buy, and the same holds true if you own anything older than the 70th anniversary edition Blu-ray from Warner Bros. That said, if you do own one of the more recent Warner Bros releases, then the quality increase in image and audio is not such a huge difference that could immediately justify the regular asking price of $50-$60. But when you add in all of those features, and even with the flaw in the packaging design, this set is absolutely a win for any fan of this film. And even more so if you can snag it during one of the regular sales (including 50% off sale ongoing as of this publication date).

Buy/Upgrade Recommendation: YES!

If after checking out the review, you decide to pick it up, you can find it here*: Buy it here!

Summary and Overall Scores:

Is Criterion’s 4K release of Citizen Kane, perfect? No, it’s not (and even with the corrected Blu-ray, this is still true). But it is very very good, and loaded with some great extras that makes a premium priced product like this well worth it.

Experience Score**: 4.5 / 5  (Excellent)

** Experience score does not take into account the quality of the film itself, just the technical presentation, packaging and included features.

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