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In the spring of 1980, the port at Mariel Harbor was opened, and thousands set sail for the United States. They came in search of the American Dream. One of them found it on the sun-washed avenues of Miami... wealth, power and passion beyond his wildest dreams. he was Tony Montana. The world will remember him by another name... Scarface.
For more about Scarface and the Scarface Blu-ray release, see Scarface Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 25, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham
Director: Brian De Palma
» See full cast & crew
Scarface Blu-ray Review
"A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse..."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 25, 2011
The scene that best captures everything that makes Scarface, well... Scarface? When Tony offers Ernie a job. That's right, when Tony offers Ernie a job. No chainsaws, no Bolivian helicopters, no nightclub hits, no cock-ah-roaches or say-hellos, no M16-mounted grenade launchers, no lines of llello (pronounced yey-yo for the uninitiated), no showers of blood or barrage of bullets. The film's choice scenes may stick to the roof of your brain, but they're merely pulpy pleasures. They're not the things that make the film sizzle. They're not the things that make it tick. Scarface, penned with a razor blade by Oliver Stone and directed with a fierce vengeance by director Brian De Palma, is a film of startling fury, brutal savagery and operatic shock and awe; elements that have earned the critically divisive 1983 crime drama the fervent cult following it enjoys today. And yet it's Stone and De Palma's command of suspense, volatility and tension -- the quiet moments before and, in Ernie's case, after every Pacino storm -- that makes Scarface so much more than the unhinged, hyper-violent, overindulgent schlock so many have unjustly labeled it.
In May 1980, Fidel Castro opened the harbor at Mariel, Cuba with the apparent intention of letting some of his people join their relatives in the United States. Within seventy-two hours, 3,000 U.S. boats were headed for Cuba. It soon became evident that Castro was forcing the boat owners to carry back with them not only their relatives, but the dregs of his jails. Of the 125,000 refugees that landed in Florida, an estimated 25,000 had criminal records.
Scarface tracks the ruthless rise (and spectacular fall) of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban refugee who comes to Miami and soon sets his sights on more than the entry-level American Dream tends to offer. With lifelong best friend Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer) in tow, Tony locks and loads his way up the criminal ladder, killing anyone who crosses him, exacting vengeance on his enemies and honing his bloody business sense. He snags a pair of green cards by assassinating a former Cuban official, cuts his teeth running dope for a dealer named Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), eventually makes inroads with a Bolivian distributor (Paul Shenar), steps up when Frank begins to slip, and soon becomes Miami's most powerful and most feared kingpin. But for as much as Tony comes to despise Lopez, he neglects to take two important lessons to heart: "don't underestimate the other guy's greed" and "don't get high on your own supply." Blinded by excess and cocaine, Tony begins to lose control; control of his empire, control of his sister (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), control of his wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) and, inevitably, control of himself. He pushes everyone away until he only has one friend left at his side. One little friend...
Stone folds a surprising amount of history (or current events, as it were) into the fabric of Scarface and the result is a film that revels in grand theatrics yet resonates on a visceral and, yes, even cerebral level. It was nothing less than a cultural epicenter in the early '80s, and it's nothing less than a cinematic epicenter some twenty-years later. To say it caused outrage decades before it transformed into the cult classic it is today would be a grotesque understatement; to say it hasn't had a profound effect on film as we know it, even more so. It's not a Thinking Man's gangster pic; I haven't lost my mind. The Godfather and Goodfellas delve into deeper, meatier stuff, and do so to more intriguing ends. But as often as Scarface is cast aside as monstrous melodrama, dismissed as amoral or gratuitous, for all the wincing, cringing and head-shaking it invites, there's a tremendous amount of activity brewing beneath its surface. Tony is driven by urges that are never explained, rationalized or satisfied. He doesn't enjoy his wealth, he just has an unquenchable thirst for more and more of it. He doesn't need respect, his narcissism simply demands it. He doesn't love Elvira, he simply has to have her. And, even when he gets her, we're never privy to anything remotely healthy in their relationship. (Despite Tony and Manny's professed love of women, Scarface is a misogynistic, arguably asexual, outing. Killing is the most intimate act Tony performs on screen, and he has little compassion for even those closest to him. He wants Elvira, but why? He wants a son, but why?) Everything becomes a conquest without a reward, a thrill without a payoff, a hunger without any satisfaction. Tony is a miserable beast of burden and his misery only pushes him to heap more weight in his cart. He's an addict in every sense, and few other films have captured the feverish madness addiction causes, whether that addiction is to money, cocaine, influence or power. "The World Is Yours" indeed.
Pacino leaves "over-the-top" bloodied, battered and crumpled on the ground, climbing to heights even his lick-smacking Lucifer didn't brave in The Devil's Advocate. He doesn't care if anyone believes his drug-addled bogeyman exists, so long as they're terrified a creature like Montana could come snarling out of their closet at any moment. And because Tony adheres to a code of underworld ethics of his own making, it's Pacino's careful (so careful it seems careless) balance of hothead, businessman, comedian, dread prince and uncorked maniac that makes Montana such an unpredictable, funny, inexplicably magnetic, almost tragic protagonist. (Lest we forget, a man by the name of William Shakespeare dreamed up temperamental madmen and self-destructive power-mongers on a regular basis. Stone is no Shakespeare, but I suspect Uncle Will would be fascinated with Montana all the same.) De Palma, capable a filmmaker as he is (or was before 1990 and his last ten films rendered him inert), simply aims Pacino and fires; God help whatever scene is standing in his path. Fortunately, De Palma has such a firm grip on Pacino's performance and Stone's screenplay that his shots rarely miss, even when they hit wide and appear wild and untrained. There's a deliberate method to his chaos and a sense to his senselessness that will forever mystify some viewers and continue to divide critics and audiences alike. It's too long, I know. (Although I'm not sure what De Palma could have cut away without slicing into the film's vital organs.) It doesn't scrutinize Montana's motivations as much as I'd like, I'll admit. And it isn't one I feel the need to revisit very often. (Again, it isn't The Godfather or Goodfellas.) That said, it's a smarter film than many assume and a more durable cult classic than some have suggested. I think it's safe to say it isn't going anywhere soon.
Scarface Blu-ray, Video Quality
Scarface arrives on Blu-ray with a guns-blazing 1080p/VC-1 transfer, but walks away riddled with too many holes for my (complete) satisfaction. Don't get me wrong, there are a number of scenes that look quite good, fantastic even. Sadly, though, others don't fare so well. Edge enhancement has been applied rather liberally, edge halos and minor ringing are apparent throughout, intermittent (some will say judicious) noise reduction takes a toll, and crush is a serious issue. Night skies, shadows, dark hair and black suits melt together into a detail-sapping blob, delineation is problematic (at best), and contrast is occasionally hopped up on its own supply. A heaviness presides over the image that affects skintones from time to time and leaves too many shots, particularly low-lit interiors, gasping for air. Thankfully, all is not lost. Detail may sometimes disappear in the darkness, but when the lights come up, it returns in force. Fine textures range from passable to well-resolved to striking ("inconsistent" is another way to put it), edges are sharp (albeit too sharp at times), pores and fabric tend to pop, and grain is, more often than not, intact and refined. Moreover, colors are both brash and savory, black levels are inky, and primaries make their presence known (especially reds, which have a rich, corn-syrup-crimson gleam that would no doubt delight De Palma). The film has, quite simply, never looked better.
As for the encode itself, it's surprisingly free of compression anomalies. Why surprisingly? Universal has crammed a three hour film, a 7.1 lossless surround track, a 40-minute high definition documentary, two U-Control tracks, a string of standard definition extras and other bells and whistles on a single BD-50 disc. Eagle-eyed videophiles will spot a few brief bursts of artifacts in the Miami skies but, otherwise, there isn't much to complain about. Banding, macroblocking and other distractions are held at bay, meaning the aforementioned edge halos, occasional smeariness and severe crush are the only real problems of note. Impressive as it sometimes is, this is yet another Universal catalog transfer minted from a DVD-era master. It's not the worst of the studio's worst -- far from it -- but it doesn't deserve top marks either.
Scarface Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track doesn't disappoint, even if (in this case) the use of two additional channels doesn't necessarily produce a more seamless experience. Dialogue is clean, clear and well-prioritized, pans are nice and smooth, and effects light up the soundfield with remarkable ferocity. LFE output is loud and (deceptively) unruly, sinking its teeth into every chainsaw, M16, Uzi and grenade De Palma tosses at his audience. Rear speaker activity is pointed and aggressive as well, with plenty of Miami street noise, nightclub crowd chatter and directional whiz-bangs to make everything as engaging and enveloping as it presumably could be. There also isn't any debilitating hiss, and several scenes don't even show their age. Ambience is lacking at times, sure. Imperfections abound, no doubt. Scarface was released in 1983, though, so a fair bit of thinness and tinniness should be expected and summarily pardoned. Voices, gunshots and other elements in the mix are never affected to the extent that any major concerns will be raised. If anything, Universal's lossless remix retains the personality of the film's early '80s sound design, as it should. Those armed with appropriate expectations will be thrilled with the results.
Scarface Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 2-disc Blu-ray release of Scarface arrives in a blood-red SteelBook case complete with a single BD-50 Blu-ray disc (with Scarface and all its special features), a DVD copy of Howard Hawks and Richard Rosson's Scarface (1932), ten exclusive Grand Prize-winning design art cards, and an access code for a downloadable Digital Copy of the film.
Scarface Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Scarface may not be king, but as the mad prince of gangster cinema, it still wields frightening sway over its subjects, even some twenty-eight years after its release. Love it or loathe it, De Palma's crime epic is a tour de force, Stone's script remains one of his most startling, and Pacino's performance holds everything in its orbit. Universal's Blu-ray release captures it all well. Its video transfer has a variety of issues, but stands head and shoulders above its DVD counterpart; its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 will strike some as overkill, but impresses nonetheless; and its supplemental package, while relegating the original 1932 Scarface to a standard DVD, has plenty of excellent extras to go around. Like the film itself, the Blu-ray release of Scarface isn't perfect. It's worth serious consideration, though, so proceed accordingly.
Scarface: Other Editions
Scarface Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: September 6-12 - September 6, 2011
Much like Luc Besson's character Leon in The Professional, trained assassin aren't exactly inconspicuous. They aren't highly trained killing machines in peak physical condition, will little regard to the value of human life. But when a young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed ...
• The World is Yours: The Making of Scarface - September 6, 2011
It was not the boxoffice success Universal had hoped for when released in 1983, but today Universal's Scarface has become more popular than ever with a huge fan base, earning millions over the years on home video releases. In celebration of the film's Blu-ray release, ...
• Special Event: Scarface Livestream Event on 8/23/2011 - August 22, 2011
In anticipation of Scarface's Blu-ray debut on September 6th, Universal Studios Home Entertainment and Livestream are hosting a live Q&A with the film's cast and crew. This event, which includes producer Martin Bregman as well as stars Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, ...
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