• Scarface (Limited Edition)

    Released by: Universal Studios
    Released on: 9/6/2011
    Director: Brian De Palma
    Cast: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia
    Year: 1983
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    The Movie:

    While it’s gone on to be a bit of a pop culture cliché in certain ways, there’s really no denying the awesomeness that is Brian De Palma’s Scarface. Written by Oliver Stone, the story is as epic as any gangster movie ever made and it really lets Pacino go nuts with his character.

    For the one or two people who haven’t seen the movie, Pacino plays a Cuban refugee named Tony Montana who goes to Miami after Castro opens up the harbor at Mariel and basically sent everyone he didn’t want in the country to the United States. Tony is an aggressive guy, he wants it all and he’s going to take everything he can get. This is made apparently very early on when he and his friend, Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer) start dabbling in crime. This brings them to the attention of a gangster named Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham) who hires the two to do a job for him which very quickly goes wrong. In spite of this, Tony and Manny make it out alive with the money and eventually meet up with Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), one of the biggest drug suppliers in the country. Tony starts to work his way up the ranks and even finds himself hooking up with Frank’s woman, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer).

    As aggressive and ambitious as Tony is, however, his life is far from perfect. His younger sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) soon finds herself getting into trouble and Tony starts dipping into his own supply of cocaine and soon winds up with a pretty serious problem. The cops are watching him and rival gangsters too – there’s no way this is going to end well…

    One of those rare action/crime films where the characters matter more than the action (though the film is hardly lacking in the later department), Scarface is phenomenal in a lot of ways. First and foremost is Pacino in the lead role. He is so completely committed to this character and so completely engrossed in his surroundings that he’s no longer Al Pacino, he IS Tony Montana. He slips into Tony’s skin so effortlessly that even when he’s going completely over the top and chewing his way through the scenery he’s nothing short of amazing in the role. Stone’s script gives Montana enough human characteristics that, as completely evil and self absorbed as he might be, there’s still a glimmer of emotion underneath it all. We see this when he deals with his family members and never more than when he interacts with his sister Gina, so well played by the beautiful Mastrantonio. This lets us, if not sympathize with him, at least feel for him just enough to actually care about his fate. We know he’s going to get what he deserves and like all classic villains throughout history he’ll fall victim to his own hubris – it’s a fate he can’t avoid and pride is the downfall of many great men. And Tony is a great man, in his own completely wrong way. He lives up to his criminal potential and then some, making his way from street punk to king of cocaine and acquiring an insane amount of wealth and possessions, material and human alike, along the way. On the inside though, we also know that Tony is a coward. He lies his way to the top, lies his way through his dealings and lies his way through his relationship with Elvira.

    De Palma covers this meteoric rise and fall with loads of style. The production design is fantastic in the movie, with Tony’s mansion never less than completely impressive and all the glitz and glamour of Miami nightlife always in full swing. The characters that populate this world might be more than a little unseemly but the movie sure makes the lifestyle look appealing on a physical level. Of course, money isn’t everything, that’s made very clear too, and it obviously can’t buy Tony the happiness he can’t find in life. The film is violent, incredibly so at times, but as gratuitous as it gets it’s only in keeping with the movie’s over the top style and tone. To have Tony go out any other way than how he goes out in the finale (we’ll stop there to try to avoid further spoilers) just wouldn’t be the way a guy like Tony would go and on top of that payback is a bitch.

    At just short of three hours in length, the film doesn’t feel too long. It’s too well made for that to happen and it has too many interesting characters. When Pacino isn’t going full tilt Robert Loggia is brooding in the background, Mastrantonio is trying to find her place in Tony’s world or Pfeiffer is trying to figure out where she fits in all of this. The supporting cast is uniformly excellent, filling in the spots where Pacino’s manic performance doesn’t quite fit. As excessive as the world it portrays and as entertaining and enthralling as it is relentless, Scarface deserves its place as one of the more popular films of the early eighties because it’s one of the best films of the early eighties.


    Scarface debuts on Blu-ray in a 2.35.1widescreen VC-1 encoded 1080p high definition transfer that is simultaneously impressive and disappointing. First, the bad news – there are some very noticeable problems with crush here that make some of the darker scenes murkier than some might have hoped they would be and detail definitely suffers because of this. There’s also some fairly obvious edge enhancement present throughout the movie and some minor noise reduction, though thankfully most of the grain appears to not have been tinkered with too much. These flaws keep an otherwise solid transfer from rating as perfect, and a lot of people could very well take issue with that. The good news is that when the film takes place outside in the daylight or indoors with the lights on it looks very good. Detail is definitely more than a few steps ahead of what DVD was able to provide, and texture can also be very impressive – it’s just that this doesn’t happen in every scene. Colors are very well reproduced here and the neon of Miami’s nightclubs and signs look fantastic. Black levels are usually pretty strong and quite deep while skin tones almost always look fine too. It’s a shame that some of the inconsistencies that plague the image quality here are so noticeable, as there are definitely huge advantages to this transfer over previous DVD issues and more than a few moments where the film looks stunning in high definition.

    Audio options are handled by an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, and it sounds pretty damn good, particularly during the action scenes where bullets and various profanities are flying at you from all over the place, heightening the chaos of the final showdown between Tony and his enemies. The score has a lot of punch to it and bass response is pretty strong throughout. Explosions have a lot of power behind them as do gunshots, while the more subdued scenes of the film benefit from some well placed ambient noise that fills things in nicely. Dialogue is pretty much always upfront and easy to understand and follow because of that an levels are generally well balanced even if some of the sound effects do sound a bit pumped up in a couple of spots. There are no problems with hiss or distortion to note, everything is clean and crisp and clear. This track doesn’t have the weight or depth or dimensionality that a brand new action movie might have but for a film made in 1983, the surround mix here is very impressive.

    Also included is an English DTS Surround 2.0 mix, a French DTS Surround 2.0 Mono mix and a Spanish DTS Surround 2.0 Mono mix are also included. Subtitles are provided in English SDH, French and Spanish.

    First up is The Scarface Phenomenon, a brand new documentary (in HD) that examines Scarface’s place cinema and pop culture history by exploring the controversy surrounding it through to its rise as an established classic. It also looks at how the film would go on to influence not just filmmakers (Eli Roth pops up here!) but musicians and writers as well. It clocks in at roughly forty minutes and is presented in high definition. The featurette is broken up into three parts but it makes the most sense to watch them all in a row as one lengthier documentary. It doesn’t tell seasoned fans much of what they don’t already know but it is very well put together and a fairly comprehensive look at the movie and its insanely far reaching influence.

    Carried over from previous DVD releases of the movie is the twenty-two minutes worth of Deleted Scenes that fans will be pretty familiar with by this point. Sadly, they don’t get an HD upgrade here. A lot of this is fairly raw and unfinished but its inclusion is quite welcome.

    Also carried over from the previous DVD special edition are a few featurettes starting with The World of Tony, a twelve minute segment which lets police officers, writers, and other people who may not necessarily see Montana as a ‘hero’ discuss the film and its merits. The Rebirth is a ten minute bit in which De Palma and the film’s producer Martin Bregman join Al Pacino and Stone to discuss ‘the history of Scarface’ as they talk about Hawks’ original film and how it evolved into De Palma’s version. The Acting sheds fifteen minutes worth of light on how and why De Palma cast who he cast in the movie while Pacino and Bregman discuss their admiration for the actors and actresses who appear in the movie. The Creating is a solid half hour long look at the making of the film which is a ‘soup to nuts’ take on it, from the loss of its original shooting location in Florida to how certain (now iconic) set pieces like the chainsaw scene and the coked up finale were filmed. There’s also some great information in here on the film’s troubles with the MPAA and their R-rating, what went into the production design seen in the film (with some emphasis on Tony’s mansion) and much more. Fairly amusing is the three minute Scarface: The TV Version which is a rather telling comparison of the uncut version of the film versus the ‘cleaned up’ broadcast TV version of the film – those who get a kick out of the sometimes bizarre ways in which TV censors make foul language ‘family friendly’ will take some amusement from this. Again, carried over from the previous special edition DVD release is The Making of Scarface: The Video Game, which is a twelve minute throw away promo spot that shows us what went into bringing Tony Montana to life in digital form back in 2006. All of the extras carried over from the DVD release are presented in standard definition though the twenty-minute long Origins Of A Hip-Hop Classic featurette that was on the last DVD SE is missing, which might irk those who enjoyed that bit.

    New to this Blu-ray are some nifty U-Control interactive features starting with the Scarface Scoreboard which is a moderately amusing interface that lets you keep tabs on how many times the word ‘fuck’ is used in its various incarnations and how many bullets are fired during the movie. More useful is the Picture in Picture commentary track that contains some interview footage of director Brian De Palma, leading man Al Pacino, screenwriter Oliver Stone, and a few others who offer screen specific information at the touch of a button right alongside the feature itself. This is the best extra on the disc as it lets those who made the movie discuss its impact, tell some stories about making the picture, detail things like casting and location scouting, and relate some interesting anecdotes about the controversy it incurred not just from the Cuban community but from the movie going public at large. This track does recycle some content from some of the other featurettes found on the disc but it is, overall, very well done.

    The disc is also BD-Live enabled so you can go online and get some content that way if you want, and pocket BLU enabled, so you can use your smartphone to control your Blu-ray player (if it’s networkable) and use it as a remote if you want and use interactive features like online chat if you’re into doing that sort of thing while you should be paying attention to the movie.

    But wait – that’s not all! Universal has also included, on a DVD (when it would have been nice to have it on Blu-ray) the original Howard Hawks Scarface starring Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, a gangster who experiences a rise and fall on a similar level to Tony Montana. It would have been nice to see some extras here, all we get is an alternate ending, and it would have been even nice to see this on presented in HD like it belongs, but its inclusion is welcome and a nice way to fill out the package.

    And speaking of the package, both discs are housed inside an attractive steelbook case which, when opened, also contains ten postcards replicating the top ten entries from an art contest Universal held to help hype this release. Also included is a code for a digital copy of the De Palma film.

    The Final Word:

    Fans have been waiting a long time for Scarface to come to Blu-ray and Universal, well aware of the film’s massive fanbase, have really rolled out the red carpet for this release. The film looks and sounds great on Blu-ray despite the fact that the transfer isn’t perfect and the disc is loaded with extras, even including the original film that influenced this version.

    Click on the images below for full size Blu-ray screencaps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Little disappointed to hear about the flaws in the transfer, though I'm glad to hear that the audio isn't a botchjob like the DVD was. Regardless, I sold my SE DVD in anticipation of this release. Nice of them to include the original film as well, I friggin' love Paul Muni gangster roles. And even though they included the useless old-ass video game featurette, thank god for the loss of the Origins of a Hip Hop Classic featurette, which only served to prove how stupid the hip-hop generation is. Good review. :D
    1. Mike T's Avatar
      Mike T -
      I forgot to ask, and I didn't see it mentioned anywhere in your review: did they restore the opening titles crawl (background on Cuba and the refugees in red text against a black backdrop) for this new BD edition...or did they just repeat what was done with the last DVD release, which was run player generated subtitles against a textless back screen?
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      White text against the black screen on this version, then it cuts to the footage of Castro and does the Mariel Harbor thing.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Just ordered this from amazon.com, and actually remembered to use the link. :D