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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 9/3/98



Scarface
Collector's Edition - 1983 (1998) - Universal Studios

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Film Rating: A
Pacino turns in another fireworks display. De Palma shows us once again that he knows what to do with images, and Oliver Stone illustrates why he has more Oscars than God, and deserves every last one of them.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): F/D/B
In my mind, the quality of the disc is a major issue. That F for the video quality stands for something... "Fix it, Universal" is just one of them. This is one of the worst big studio releases out there. And for this film, that's a damn crime.

Overall Rating: F+
You can't overlook the F for video quality, no matter how great a movie is, or how good the extras here are. I'm sorry, I'm a big Universal fan, but c'mon -- this disc is bad.

Specs and Features

170 minutes, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), RSDL dual-layer (layer switch between Chapter 20 and 21 at 1:43:25), documentary The Making Of Scarface, outtakes, trailers, stills, trailer for Carlito's Way, production notes, cast and crew bios, film-themed menu screens, scene access (35 chapters) languages: English (DD 5.0), subtitles: French and Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

Usually, there is an underlying theme to every film you see -- a motto if you will. Even the most brainless of films have one. Often, this motto is spoken within the film by one of it's characters. In the case of Scarface, Tony Montana (Al Pacino) lays out the film in one bold statement: "In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women." That's pretty much what Scarface is all about -- well, that and the F-word. Not that that's a bad thing -- it's just true.

Many people consider Scarface to be one of the greatest gangster films ever made. I don't know if I'd go that far. Sure it's quotable, ("Say hello to my little friend"), it's got Pacino doing his Pacino thing with a Cuban accent, and it's certainly well directed and written. Scarface is, in fact, simply a great film, but does it really fall into the whole gangster genre? It's based on the 1932 film Scarface -- and shares many of the most apparent plot points -- the stealing of the boss' girl, the over protective nature dealing with the sister, the dramatic killing of the bad guy in the end. These are all in both films. But to me, a gangster film -- much like actual gangsters, are about a group. We call the Mafia, "the family" for this same reason. The Godfather Trilogy, Goodfellas or any one of the Hong Kong gangster films are shining examples of such themes in crime films. Scarface is about a loner -- he's got hangers-on and a best buddy, but ultimately it's a character study of Tony Montana, and an attack on the over-indulgent 80s. The fact that it's a commentary about the 80s, done right in the opening years of the decade (written in 1981/82 and filmed in 1983), is what hits the point home so well. Oliver Stone, who wrote the film, was neck deep in cocaine problems (eventually leaving the country to clean himself up), when he wrote this. The glossy Miami look of the film, eventually inspired filmmaker Michael Mann's television show Miami Vice -- all neon, rain-slicked and brightly colored men and women. It has loads going for it, but it's not a traditional gangster film.

Scarface opens during the spring of 1980, when Fidel Castro allowed some of his people out of Cuba to join family in the States. Droves of people filled boats, rafts or anything else that would float. But sitting in the middle of all these people looking for the promised land of America, were the dregs of Cuban society -- repeat offenders and unrepentant criminals. All, too, looking for the cracked golden streets of America -- and willing to do anything to get there. One such man is Tony Montana, a street smart thug who knows what to say, what to do and when to do what he needs to do, to get exactly what he wants. He wants the world -- and in his mind, it's promised to him in the words: "The World Is Yours" blinking on a blimp high above the city. (Also a hold over from the original Scarface, but there the words were written on a billboard). Tony ends up working for the local crime boss Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), and does very well keeping up with the Jones' -- so well, in fact, that he seizes control of the entire operation, money, drugs and the boss' girl (a way too thin Michelle Pfeiffer). All these things Tony gets -- but he wants more. More power, more money and more women. One woman he wants in particular, is his very own sister. Although it's not clear the type of love Tony plans to rain down on his sister, it's telegraphed to be sick. One bad, paranoid move after another lands Tony in the line of fire, and about 6,000 bullets are rushing right at him.

As stated above, Scarface is the story of excess. Too much of anything can't be all that great -- and in the 80s everyone wanted too much. Ronald Reagan might as well have played Tony Montana -- because the line isn't all that blurred. But then again, we're talking movies -- not politics.

Now for the bad part, Scarface is one of the worst DVDs produced by Universal. It's actually the one disc that I would tell everyone to stay away from. The transfer is murky, dark and full of artifacts. The sound, although Dolby Digital surround, isn't 5.1, and it's just about as murky as the picture. The extras are nice, and document the film pretty well, but who gives a blank if the transfer of the film is horrid? I know I don't. And why doesn't De Palma do commentary tracks? Both Carlito's Way and Scarface really would have benefited from him explaining his camera choices, and some behind-the-scenes tidbits, like what he was telling Pacino to get him to turn in such a great performance. On the disc, there are some outtakes and trailers. These are nice too, but these transfers are even worse than the film itself, which isn't surprising. The standard production notes and cast and crew bios are thrown in, so you don't just have to watch the bad transfer, and take a few minutes to read something.

Bottom line

A totally disappointing presentation of a modern classic -- and shame on Universal for putting this out. Most everything they've given us (except those pan & scan only nightmares that kicked off their line) have been flawless miracles of DVD technology. No matter how hugely entertaining or thrilling this film is, you can't forgive just how bad this film looks on DVD. I'm mad, damnit.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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