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SCARFACE
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia
Director: Brian De Palma
Audio: DTS HD 7.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 170 Minutes
Release Date: September 6, 2011

Me, I want what's coming to me.”

What's coming to you?”

The world, chico...and everything in it.”

Film ***1/2

If you ask anyone today what their favorite gangster movie of all time is, chances are you will get one of two answers, The Godfather or Scarface. The latter of the two can easily be considered a much more hardcore version The Godfather, simply because its many scenes of brutal violence. Over the years, this tale of crime, drugs, and ultimate power has gone on to become one of the most popular films of the crime genre, which is quite an accomplishment for a movie that did only moderately well when released to theaters. From what I’ve seen, Scarface has indeed become something of a required viewing among the male species, and seeing how it’s popularity has soared ever since it’s initial release, I can see it thankfully being discovered by new generations of audiences for years to come.

Stylistic master Brian De Palma crossed over big time to the realm of big budget movie-making with this risky project, which at the time of its release in 1983 was at the center of hot controversy. Apparently, prior to this film, there hadn’t been a more violent, more profane mainstream release. Scarface had every demeaning quality one could ask for, including perhaps the most scenes of drug use in any film at the time, and like De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, it was threatened with the dreaded X rating. In the end, De Palma got the picture he wanted released anyway, and Scarface proved to be a movie experience of the most extreme that had never quite existed before.

All I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break ‘em for no one.”

For its star Al Pacino, Scarface would result in a career milestone. Pacino is clearly an actor of legendary status, and I am very certain that his many legions of fans find his portrayal of ruthless drug lord Tony Montana remains his most powerful performance to date. It’s true that even by 1983, Pacino wasn’t new to the crime genre, as he already perfected it in both The Godfather and Godfather Part II, but one thing can be said about Pacino in Scarface, you had never seen him as explosive and over the top before, which is a quality that only Pacino has perfected with this film and others since.

With the endlessly edgy screenplay penned by no less than Oliver Stone, Scarface is an epic story of the rise and fall of Tony Montana, who enters the U.S. in 1980 as a recently released political prisoner. As Castro was granting the opportunity of immigration for his people to Miami, he also sent away the prisoners he had so despised, as a means of emptying out his jails in Cuba, which is how Tony got to where he is.

I kill a communist for fun, but for a green card, I gonna carve him up real nice.”

Along with his lifelong friend, Manny (Steven Bauer), Tony starts his experience in the states right at the bottom. Both he and Manny start working for minimum wage, something that Tony isn’t too much fond of since he didn’t come to the U.S. to work for money. Tony is ultimately driven when it comes to wanting cash, no matter what he has to do in order to get it. It isn’t too long before Tony’s chance encounter with a local drug runner results in him and his friend hired on to deal for Miami drug lord Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia)

As Tony soon becomes Lopez’ top lieutenant, he is soon seduced by the promise of even more power, as rival drug runner Sosa (Paul Shenar) offers a spot on his crew for Tony. He accepts the offer right on the spot, causing him to betray Lopez, who is upset by this since he helped bring Tony into the business in the first place. When he becomes convinced that Lopez ordered a hit on him, Tony strikes back by executing his former boss, and taking over every inch of his empire, including his mistress, Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer).

I always tell the truth, even when I lie.”

After long, Tony appears to have more power and wealth than the president, and has no intention of slowing down. He is now married to Elvira, but only because he believes he has to have her, while she is at his side simply because she has quick access to drugs. There is no real romance between the two, just the notion that a marriage has to exist between them. Another weakness for Tony is his younger sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), whom Tony is way too overprotective of and can’t stand to see even enjoying herself. Their traumatic relationship results in quite possibly one of the most heartbreaking and crushing scenes ever.

For De Palma, Scarface is perhaps one of the few films that isn’t so much heavily relied on the brilliant visual gimmicks he so flawlessly pulls off. De Palma is simply painting a distinct character piece, while at the same time creating a much lush sense of atmosphere in the setting of sunny Miami. There are a couple of trademark De Palma camera pans from one area to another, but for the most part, De Palma understandably lets Pacino and the look of Miami drive the moving power.

De Palma should also be credited with taking cinematic violence to a whole new level. Two scenes, in particular, still help to induce a few bone chilling reactions. There’s the infamous early scene where Tony and his two assailants are held captive during a drug deal gone horrendously bad, resulting in the use of a chainsaw, and not for the use of cutting down any nearby palm trees. The other is the classic final scene where Tony, all coked up, takes on an army of henchmen who invade his mansion. To this day, this scene remains one of the most striking scenes of violence ever shot (no pun intended), with Pacino’s classic line, referring to his mother of a machine gun, elevating it to sheer perfection.

So say goodnight to the bad guy.”

Scarface remains one of the most hardcore films of all time. This is a movie that is a pure celebration in everything over the top, right down to Pacino’s now famous accent used for Tony Montana. If you’re wondering why I don’t give this film a full four stars, it’s only because I find De Palma and Pacino's second collaboration, Carlito’s Way, to be much more masterful and dramatic, in addition to having the added bonus of extended De Palma style. Nonetheless, this is nothing short of pure cinematic firepower with one of the best directors of our time, and one of the all time great actors making the most of a superb collaboration.

Video ***1/2

I can't think of another movie that has had this much of a rocky road on DVD in terms of receiving a perfect restored look than Scarface. It's initial DVD release was nothing short of horrendous, with a non-anamorphic presentation for starters. Subsequent re-releases slightly improved upon that but the result was always far from perfect. And while it pleases me to report that this Blu-ray release has the film in what will truly be the best looking presentation anyone could ever hope to see it in, it's not the four-star treatment we were all hoping for. In terms of overall detail, this HD presentation soars during the daytime sequences, in which Miami is brought to vivid life on the 1080p in an amazing fashion. Colors are a solid treat for the eyes, and the detail and texture brings a new depth to this film's look that is going to be very appreciative by hardcore fans. What prevents it from being fully spectacular are the nighttime sequences, which aren't as frequent as the daytime scenes but during these moments detail is lacking and blacks seem to be a bit overdone. As major a factor as that is, this presentation is an overall superb achievement that will very much satisfy fans of this movie who have been waiting patiently for it's moment to shine in HD.

Audio ****

Sound-wise, this is simply a knockout! Universal applies a rare 7.1 DTS HD mix, thus ensuring that this epic of excess gets an audio treatment that is truly excessive in all the right ways. From the very moment Giorgio Moroder's classic score opens the film and livens up the speakers in full lossless audio right up to the classic violent showdown at Tony's headquarters, this is very much the definition of what you want a film like this to sound like in this format. Needless to say, every single gunshot, explosion, cocaine sniff, f-bomb and so forth sounds as magnificent as ever. Every inch of age that existed in all the previous DVD offerings has now been scrapped, and rightfully so. Even the dated music beats on the soundtrack sound nothing short of remarkable. If you've ever wanted to fully immerse yourself in the world of Tony Montana, this is as close as you'll ever get!

Features ****

Universal has done this film right with a rock-solid, steel cased packaging and a dynamite lineup of extras for this Limited Edition release! To start with, we have three new extras starting with two interactive features through Universal's U-Control. We get a neat Picture-in-Picture track which includes interview segments as well as scene comparisons between this and the 1932 original film, as well as several cases where the network TV version of a scene will play while the uncut version is running. The second interactive feature is the “Scarface Scoreboard”, which tallies up every single F-bomb and fired gunshot, and trust me there's quite a lot of both! Lastly amongst the new extras is a new behind the scenes documentary titled “The Scarface Phenomenon”, which takes a detailed look at the film's explosive impact on today's pop culture, featuring new interviews with Brian De Palma, various cast and crew members, and devoted fans of the film. Also included are extras ported over from past DVD releases, including the featurettes; “The World of Tony Montana”, “The Rebirth”, “The Acting”, “The Creating”, “Scarface: The TV Version” and “The Making of Scarface: The Video Game”. Rounding out the extras are over twenty minutes of Deleted Scenes.

There's also a second disc containing the original 1932 Scarface, which was an unexpected and pleasant surprise! And to cap things off, the package also comes with 10 Collectable Art Cards!

Summary:

SAY HELLO TO THE BLU-RAY RELEASE! The arrival of Scarface on Blu-ray is a true cause for celebration! We're never going to experience a presentation that exceeds the sheer quality of this version, so all die hard fans of this movie shouldn't hesitate in taking full advantage of this gargantuan edition of a monster gangster classic!

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