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Scarface: Limited Edition Steelbook Blu-ray + Digital Copy Review

Scarface (1983) movie poster Scarface

Theatrical Release: December 9, 1983 / Running Time: 170 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Brian De Palma / Writer: Oliver Stone

Cast: Al Pacino (Tony Montana), Steven Bauer (Manny Ribera), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elvira Hancock), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Gina Montana), Robert Loggia (Frank Lopez), Miriam Colon (Mama Montana), F. Murray Abraham (Omar Suarez), Paul Shenar (Alejandro Sosa), Harris Yulin (Mel Bernstein), Angel Salazar (Chi Chi), Arnaldo Santana (Ernie), Pepe Serna (Angel), Michael P. Moran (Nick the Pig), Al Israel (Hector the Toad), Dennis Holahan (Jerry the Banker), Mark Margolis (Alberto the Shadow), Michael Alldredge (Sheffield), Ted Beniades (Seidelbaum), Richard Belzer (M.C. at Babylon Club), Paul Espel (Luis), John Brandon (Immigration Officer #3), Tony Perez (Immigration Officer #2), Garnett Smith (Immigration Officer #1)

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Al Pacino has had his ups and downs. The actor got his big break when he was cast over established names in the part of Michael Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. It would become one of cinema's greatest roles in two of the most highly regarded films of all time. With that, Pacino was a star and he used his leading man status wisely, picking one good project after another.
Even though he turned down some things that ended up quite special (Star Wars, Kramer vs. Kramer), Pacino typically went on to do something memorable in its own right. In the 1970s, the actor wound up earning five Academy Award nominations from performances in just eight films, three of them Best Picture nominees (including two winners) and five of them screenplay nominees (with three winning).

The 1980s would be an altogether different story, as Pacino starred in a string of maligned pictures. After four such movies, Pacino took a break from film acting, heading back to the stage, where he had gotten his start. When he returned with 1989's Sea of Love, it was like the past ten years never happened. He quickly resumed adding to his long list of accolades and finally scored his first Oscar win for 1992's Scent of a Woman. Pacino worked regularly through the '90s, with many good results.

The 2000s have neither been as kind to him as the '70s and '90s nor as harsh as the '80s. Pacino's legend status is long cemented and everything new at this point, like a pair of recent Emmy and Golden Globe winning turns for HBO, is just gravy. It's been a while since he's been in a great feature film (and playing himself in Adam Sandler's upcoming Jack and Jill probably won't change that), but Pacino's reminded us of that far less frequently than his three-time co-star and equally revered Italian American contemporary Robert De Niro.

The professional slowdown that has coincided with Pacino's entrance into senior citizenship has seen one of the downs of his 1980s lull re-evaluated. Scarface was never a career low. Its $45 million domestic gross ranked it fourteenth among all 1983 releases and the film did pick up three Golden Globe nominations. It also received a Razzie nomination for Worst Director and that was not at odds with the tepid critical reaction. But in the past fifteen years or so, the movie's reputation has risen sharply.

It presently ranks 147th out of all films on IMDb, its 8.2 average user rating the fourth best of Pacino's career. The movie has been a bestseller for Universal Studios, who have reissued it on disc every few years with many bells and whistles. In 2003, a limited theatrical rerelease commemorated the film's 20th anniversary. Last decade also saw the release of two Scarface video games and a graphic novel. This is far from an ordinary trajectory for a film. Opinions change all the time, usually the result of something aging well or poorly. That is less of a factor for the collective reversal on Scarface, to which I will return shortly.

In his introduction here, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) displays attitude to questioning immigration officers. Miami cocaine kingpin Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) takes Tony (Al Pacino) under his wing, quite literally here.

A contemporary remake of the 1932 Scarface (sometimes subtitled The Shame of a Nation) directed by Howard Hawks and produced by Howard Hughes, this was the fifth screenplay of Oliver Stone, whose debut script, the non-fiction adaptation Midnight Express, won him an Oscar. Stone was a few years away from directorial glory, having at this point only helmed the unremarkable horror movies Seizure and The Hand. The director's chair instead would be filled by Brian De Palma, who had gained notice for thrillers including Carrie and Dressed to Kill.

Pacino plays Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who makes his way over to Miami in the 1980 Mariel boatlift mass exodus. Like a high percentage of the exiles, Tony is a former convict, a fact he tries to hide in his immigration interview. His life of crime is gone but not forgotten and, sprung from detention, it isn't long before he leaves his sweltering diner dishwashing job for greener pastures. He and best friend Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer) find those pastures in doing large volume drug deals for local kingpin Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia). The deadly, high-paying work is just what Tony craves to move him towards realizing his criminal version of the capitalist American Dream.

Accumulating wealth and never mincing words, Tony becomes acquainted with both the risks and rewards of organized crime, as an attempt is made on his life and he must retaliate. Soon enough, the immigrant is his own mob boss, allying with a Bolivian cocaine supplier and playing the game as he sees fit. Meanwhile, two young women carry importance in Tony's life: Frank's girl Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer, in one of her earliest film roles), who he plans to make his wife; and younger sister Gina (an afroed Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, her film debut), who he is voracious about protecting from the opposite sex.

Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the icy object of Tony's affections. Tony (Al Pacino) is overprotective of his younger sister Gina's (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) sexuality, but tolerates her afro.

The bold design of Scarface seems like something that wouldn't fly in today's political correct times. Transformation is a big part of acting, but lines do get drawn. Blackface, for instance, is now only viable for satire (i.e. Tropic Thunder). Whiteface is okay for laughs (see White Chicks).
Most anything else is acceptable, from the everyday American-British crossover to moving within a continent. Though it uses no make-up, Scarface seems to constitute a kind of brownface, with three Italian American actors portraying Cubans. With his thick, almost indecipherable accent, Pacino very much makes Tony Montana a caricature and that unflattering portrayal at least seems to occupy a gray area of racism.

Still, it's easy not to get worked up about that because the whole thing is tough to take seriously. The movie possesses a juvenile understanding of a criminal lifestyle. We get very few specifics regarding where Tony's money and power come from. "South American cocaine" seems like a pretty simplistic explanation for how a broke dishwasher becomes a man apparently making $10 million a month. But details aren't of interest, nor is subtlety to the rise and fall story De Palma wishes to (re)tell.

The story is told through a short-tempered, cigar-chomping personality who speaks in hyperbole and metaphor. It's as if Pacino, having mastered the quietly tormented criminal on the first two Godfather movies and Dog Day Afternoon, just wants to cut loose and show what he can do with an entirely uninhibited character. The result is kind of entertaining and more so ludicrous. Nowhere are both qualities as present as in the humorously over-the-top finale, where a coked-out Tony sets out to prove the world really is his. De Palma lends the final act an undeservedly operatic tone. At other times, he supplies stylish flair to make up for glaring substance deficits. Such touches and the 170-minute runtime suggest that he thought he was making some epic American crime saga to compare to The Godfather Part II, a goal Scarface never comes close to realizing.

Here it is: the obligatory "Say hello to my little friend!" shot.

And yet, Scarface has become one of the most iconic and admired films ever. It is quoted and parodied all the time. Check out how IMDb's movie connections page has grown exponentially this century. "Say hello to my little friend!" is a line that will remain etched in pop culture's conscience about as long as anything.

How did the movie ascend to such status? Hip hop had a huge hand in that. Scarface is sampled and referenced in enough rap songs to dedicate an entire senior thesis to the subject. The artist Scarface from Geto Boys is just the tip of the iceberg. The movie is embraced as an emblem for the gangsta lifestyle, which creatively glamorizes crime in a way that the film clearly does not. In the same vein is the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which pays extensive homage to the movie and seems undoubtedly to have inspired the official Scarface games (which earned Pacino's blessing and likeness, as the same year's Godfather video game did not). I don't want to say that much of the popularity stems from a fundamental misreading of the film, but it does seem like that with people aspiring to Tony Montana-type prosperity and honoring him with a poster on their wall. I don't think people miss the film's cautionary message as much as they simply enjoy the depictions of excesses and Montana's imitable attitude.

Clearly, Scarface has enough fans (4.5 million on Facebook alone) to justify Universal making its Blu-ray debut an event. And indeed, they have, with a fan art contest and a cast reunion. The two Blu-ray editions themselves are anything but ordinary. This review covers the Limited Edition that would appear to be the film's standard Blu-ray. It is packaged in a steelbook and includes a digital copy download code, ten collectible art cards, and the 1932 Scarface on DVD.

That might sound plenty fancy, but for diehard fans, there is a premium option which I assume is the priciest release ever offered a single film. More convincingly branded a limited edition, with only 1,000 sets produced worldwide, the $999.99 SRP version (currently a steal on Amazon at a mere $699.99) packages the same contents in a hand-painted and polished humidor "guaranteed to properly condition and age approximately 100 cigars at optimal humidity levels." Boasting brass hinges, a custom medallion inspired by the film, a numbered plaque and a certificate of authenticity signed by "world renowned" designer Daniel Marshall, the world better be yours if you're spending that much on a movie.

Scarface: Limited Edition Steelbook Blu-ray + Digital Copy cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 2.0 DTS Stereo (English), 2.0 DTS Mono (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Not Closed Captioned; Non-PiP Extras Subtitled; No Spanish subtitles on 1932 Movie
Release Date: September 6, 2011
Two single-sided discs (BD-50 & DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $34.98
Steelbook
Also available in Limited Edition Humidor ($999.99 SRP)
Coming soon in standard Blu-ray packaging ($34.98 SRP)
Still available as 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD ($19.98 SRP) and on Instant Video
Previously released as Collector's Edition DVD (1998), Two-Disc Anniversary Edition DVD (2003), Deluxe Gift Set (2004), and Gangsters: Ultimate Film Collection (2009)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Scarface has come a long way from its drubbed initial DVD release thirteen years ago. The Blu-ray's 2.35:1 widescreen presentation looks pretty good. The colors are vibrant, a quality most evident in Tony's bright shirts. Certain shots and the edges of others are a bit blurry. For the most part, though, the element remains clean. It's certainly grainy, but lacks drawbacks that would normally indicate its age; scuffs, specks, and the like are absent. There is a good amount of detail and while there is ample room for improvement, I don't doubt this is easily the best the film has ever looked on disc.

Scarface's soundtrack really dates it as a 1980s film. Songs performed by the likes of Elizabeth Daily, Amy Holland, and Paul Engemann remind you of the era's more down-to-earth films to whom they also lent their voices, things like St. Elmo's Fire, Teen Wolf, and Summer School. A montage's accompaniment sounds like, if unused here, it could have easily been dropped into The Karate Kid or The Secret of My Success.
But while that is certainly enough to keep the timelessness of something like The Godfather at bay, it's only a small part of the audio here, which is provided in 7.1 DTS-HD master audio and 2.0 DTS stereo. Given the two, I obviously chose the former, even though it is unquestionably unfaithful to the film's original design, which IMDb's trivia page calls "one of the last four-track magnetic stereo releases (if not the last)."

The mix is dynamic and erratic. The music can be overpowering, as are the synthesizer sounds that accompany an up-close look at Tony's transcendent feelings towards his sister. Much of the film's Spanish dialogue is not translated; only a tiny bit is illuminated with burned-in subtitles. The English SDH subtitles, which often need to be consulted for clarity, give short shrift to Stone's screenplay, simplifying the dialogue. Many will appreciate the soundtrack's power, which is most apparent in the bloodbath finale, where shots prominently emerge from all directions. For its 20th anniversary theatrical reissue, Scarface had its soundtrack remastered to enhance sound effects. There seems to be little question that this is where at least the default 7.1 DTS mix comes from, as opposed to the original recordings.

Continue to Page 2 >>
Bonus Features (including the 1932 Scarface), Menus and Packaging, Closing Thoughts

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Scarface Songs List: Paul Engemann - "Scarface (Push It to the Limit)", Deborah Harry - "Rush Rush", Amy Holland - "Turn Out the Light", Maria Conchita - "Vamos a Bailar", Giorgio Morder - "Tony's Theme", Amy Holland - "She's on Fire", Elizabeth Daily - "Shake It Up", Beth Andersen - "Dance Dance Dance", Elizabeth Daily - "I'm Hot Tonight", Helen St. John - "Gina's and Elvira's Theme"

Buy Related CDs from Amazon.com:
Scarface: Music from the Original Motion Picture Music Inspired by Scarface

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Reviewed September 8, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1983 Universal Pictures, 1932 United Artists, and 2011 Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
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