Scarface: Special Edition (1983)
Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Featurette-Making Of-The Rebirth Of Scarface
Featurette-Making Of-Acting Scarface
Featurette-Making Of-Creating Scarface
Featurette-Scarface: The TV Version
Short Film-Def Jam Presents: Origins Of A Hip Hop Classic
|Year Of Production||1983|
|RSDL / Flipper||
Dual Disc Set
|Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Language Select Then Menu|
|Region Coding||2,4,5||Directed By||Brian De Palma|
Universal Pictures Home Video
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
F. Murray Abraham
Michael P. Moran
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.40:1||Miscellaneous|
|Smoking||Yes, and plenty of snorting|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The Brian de Palma classic Scarface (1983) was inspired by an influential 1932 gangster film of the same name. But whereas the 1932 film dealt with the period of the prohibition as its backdrop, producer Martin Bregman and director Brian de Palma in the early 1980s wanted to create a film paying homage to the original, yet modernising the story setting and the story itself. The intention was to create a gangster film that was just as direct and just as powerful as its namesake, but with a more contemporary gangster story to which audiences could better relate. After a couple of unsuccessful script ideas and aborted attempts at a story idea, they brought in an up-and-coming respected young writer to help out, Oliver Stone. At that time Oliver Stone had made a name for himself as the script-writer for Midnight Express, and to a lesser degree was dabbling at directing as well. Of course he would go on years later to become a highly successful writer/director (Platoon, Wall Street, The Doors, JFK) and producer in his own right. Once it was agreed between Bregman, de Palma and Stone that the backdrop for this new gangster story would be the high pressure world of cocaine dealing, and the setting for the story would be contemporary Miami, Oliver Stone went away to work on the concept. When he resurfaced later with the final draft script for Scarface, it was an absolute corker, managing to both draw on all of the successful elements that appealed from the original film, whilst also weaving a convincing and epic saga of the rise and fall of a new breed of super-wealthy gangster drug lord. With this great script as its base, the talents of Brian de Palma in the director chair, and Al Pacino already cast in the lead role, the success of this film was assured.
The opening setting for the action of the film is established vividly and succinctly in the opening text sequence: "In May 1980, Fidel Castro opened the harbour at Mariel, Cuba, with the apparent intention of letting some of his people join their relatives in the US. Within 72 hours, 300 US 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." And with this rather scary backdrop, we are introduced to the street-smart characters of Tony Montana, "Scarface" (Al Pacino) and Manolo Ray (Steven Bauer), two of the so-called "Cuban crime wave". Landing themselves in a refugee detention camp, located right underneath a freeway, along with hundreds of their brethren, the pair latch on to their one and only opportunity to escape their hellish living conditions by simply "repaying a favour" for someone on the outside and in return for which getting green cards and jobs in Miami; all they have to do is kill someone.
As so starts the fictitious tale of the ballsy and insatiably ambitious Scarface and his loyal accomplice Manola. Not content with washing dishes in a Miami diner, the lure of the money and power of the "yeyo" (that's cocaine to you and me) beckons for the pair. To outline too much more of the plot - surely you've seen this film before?? - would be giving away far too much of the story, as one of the main objectives of the film is to create the suspense of just how unpredictable this world is - you never really know what the characters might do next.
Scarface really is a landmark film. There is a reason why this film has made such a huge mark in popular culture over the last twenty years, and that's because it is extremely well crafted and well executed. It is overly violent and confronting, yes, but the violence is well handled under the guidance of Brian de Palma, by placing it in the context of a heightened sense of reality surrounding the events. The confronting violence and language are of course necessary in order to convincingly convey the world in which these characters live. But despite the subject matter, this film never becomes seedy or heavy going at all, testimony to the combination of a truly great script, completely absorbing acting, and impressive visual styling of the film. Even though this movie runs almost two and three quarter hours, it never drags or has any quiet spots at all. It is great cinema.
Watching it today, this film resonates with just as much power as it did twenty years ago. Scarface is now widely regarded as one of the undisputed leaders in the gangster genre, and for good reason. It is up there in a league with other classics like The Godfather and Millers Crossing for its impact, but yet for completely different reasons. Whereas The Godfather (also benefiting in no small part from Al Pacino's input) was an epic story portraying the world of the mobster, it excelled via its depth of character development and sense of family values. Millers Crossing also excelled, but for its employment of witty dialogue, double-crossing double-crossing story and cynical humour. Scarface took a different path, introducing a world of extreme violence, flash tempers, heightened danger and unmitigated greed. The intention of the director and producer was to immerse the audience in a world where you constantly live on the edge, always suspenseful, knowing that the violence is barely hidden under the surface and always waiting for it to break out - a world where you're never really sure just how the characters will react next.
And of course this film completely cemented Al Pacino's reputation as one of the finest actors in Hollywood - if there was indeed ever any doubt before this. The ease and conviction with which Pacino grabs and holds the audience's attention in this film, from the very first frame to the very end, is astonishing. The fact that this acting performance (and for that matter Brian de Palma's direction) was not celebrated or even recognised at all by the Academy Awards is criminal.
Like the previous effort, this transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This is as close to the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 so as not to matter.
The new transfer exhibits significantly improved detail and resolution over its predecessor. There does remain a degree of film grain throughout which is unavoidable from the twenty year-old source elements, and so restricting the image from ever becoming razor sharp, however there is a pleasing amount of detail to the image that belies its age, particularly the foreground images. Shadow detail is also very good and there is no low level noise to worry about.
Colour is where this transfer chalks up a big plus over the previous transfer. The previous transfer was rather washed-out and drab - not to mention imbalanced, whereas this new effort is a much more faithful colour reproduction. Colours are generally quite natural and this time also well balanced. Skin tones in particular are very natural and the black levels are for the most part quite solid when called upon in the numerous night time scenes. A vibrant colour palette has been employed by the director and cinematographer in this film for the Miami location setting, including the highlighting of bright colours in the beach and sky, plus some rather vibrant posters and picture backdrops. These are all used to convey the idyllic lifestyle of the Miami location and more specifically to provide stark contrast against the rather dark and seedy nature of the characters, the situations and the actions taking place in the story. This works very well cinematically. In this new DVD transfer we at least get the chance to appreciate the director's intentions of colour contrast much more so than in the previous transfer. Of course, we are talking about an aged film print here, so you would not expect colours to literally leap out of the image with the same degree of vibrancy that they might in a more modern film, and so they don't. I would summarise the use of colour in this transfer as more than satisfactory given the film's age.
The great news is that this time around MPEG artefacts have been virtually eliminated, excepting only some very minor background pixelization in some odd scenes. There is certainly no macro-blocking from overcompression this time around, thereby correcting the embarrassing faux pas of the original DVD release and fulfilling the driver behind why there was a call for this 2-disc Special Edition in the first place.
Film-to-video artefacts are unfortunately still a problem not completely corrected from the previous release. Specifically yet again, the drama remains the preponderance of the transfer to aliasing, maybe not quite as frequently or drastically as last time, but still quite distracting at 13:30 (a diner sign), 18:19 (a shop front), 69:17 (a picture frame), 130:58 (a building), 132:31 (car grille), 135:58 (the worst example on the disc, bad aliasing on the interior of Tony Montana's house foyer), and 145:49 (a wall).
Film artefacts have benefited from a thorough clean up of the print and so there are markedly fewer film artefacts of any description now than before. There is only one isolated exception to highlight - see next sentence - but putting this aside, whatever film artefacts remain in the transfer now are only very minor and infrequent little film flecks here and there, perfectly excusable for a twenty year-old film. The one distracting instance of a film artefact to highlight is a prominent black mark running vertically down the entire frame over Al Pacino's face from 141:05 to 141:27, as it happens in a very crucial scene. This is annoying, yes, but it only lasts half a minute.
There are eight subtitle languages on offer on this disc and I sampled the English stream for a good portion of the film. I had no issues with the subtitling and found it to be clear, well placed and well timed.
This disc is RSDL-formatted, with the layer change occurring at 89:54, well placed and very quickly negotiated, right in between scenes.
Compared to the original DVD's Dolby Digital 4.0 channel (L-C-R-S) audio remix, the Special Edition this time offers newly remastered and remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 (at 384 Kb/s) and dts 5.1 (at 768 Kb/s) tracks instead. I reviewed both of the new audio tracks in full.
Scarface premiered theatrically in 1983 with mag stereo audio. This was in fact one of the very last big studio films to feature mag stereo at the time, before moving on to Dolby Surround theatre sound. It's a pity that the Scarface release date wasn't delayed just a few months more, and we might have had a more impressive audio source mix as a result. But as it is, the original audio source elements from which the previous DVD's Dolby Digital 4.0 remix was created come across as decidedly lacking in any LFE oomph. Having said that, I for one found the previous Dolby Digital 4.0 mix quite satisfactory in other respects, with its use of discrete stereo and dialogue channels and matrixed surround doing the job just fine as far as I was concerned. So as I sat down to review the newly created 5.1 mixes I was quite keen to hear what further benefits had been extracted and refined now with the benefit of the 5.1 channels. And the short answer turned out to be: a little improvement, but not much.
Dialogue quality remains perfectly fine in the new mixes, just as it was before. Putting aside Al Pacino's masterful but very thick use of Cuban dialect in this film, which does admittedly require a deal of concentration to latch onto at first, I had no issues at all either with the volume or the quality of the dialogue in either 5.1 mix. I did not note any instances at all of muffled lines or problems deciphering the dialogue from loud background scenes (even the nightclub scenes come across fine). The new audio remastering does appear to have provided marginally better clarity this time around over and above the previous 4.0 remix. I did not have any major issues with audio sync, just the odd sloppy ADR line.
The music score for this film is provided by the talented Giorgio Moroder. Mr Moroder has composed some fine music and some fine film scores in his day, and he is certainly a master of the pulsing, catchy electronic melody. His score for Scarface is just great and highly appropriate for the mood and feel of this film's 1980s setting. His score and songs are especially well integrated in the nightclub scenes. Moreover, the main instrumental themes developed for this film are deceivingly simple in structure, but yet nicely textured and extremely catchy. It is a great soundtrack. The DVD's 5.1 remixes both handle the music score well, providing good stereo separation and with the rears helping out to broaden the soundstage. The dts mix did provide a noticeable edge over the Dolby Digital mix for me, for its ability to bring out better clarity and texture in the music. In fact, the dts track's feeling of extra clarity and separation across the board is what makes it the preferred audio track on this disc for me, albeit I would say it the improvement over the Dolby Digital mix is only subtle.
As expected for an original film scored in mag stereo, the surround presence in Scarface (apart from the aforementioned music) is none too spectacular. This comment was true last time around with respect to the 4.0 remix, and it is true again now in both new 5.1 remixes. It turns out when you make a point of going right up to the rear speakers that the surround channels are indeed used for a good many scenes of this film for redirected ambience, but as this use is sporadic and as the surround channel volume level is kept very low, its use is unimpressive. Where the surrounds do chime in more effectively is with the music, as stated above. But this was the case with the 4.0 mix before too, so all in all I would say there is no significant improvement in the quality of the surround mixing as a result of the new 5.1 remix. Let's just put it down to the quality of source audio elements - you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Subwoofer use was also a big disappointment last time around and remains a big disappointment again now. There is a complete and utter lack of any oomph to this soundtrack - again, the dated source audio elements are to blame. The subwoofer is most conspicuous by its absence in the loud action sequences that feature raging machine gun fire and explosions, as in for best examples the night club gunfight at chapter 19 and the (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) climactic gunfight in Tony Montana's home at chapter 34.
An interesting footnote in respect of audio is provided by the IMDB: For the US theatrical re-release of Scarface 20th Anniversary Edition in US cinemas in 2003, several source audio elements were apparently artificially enhanced to provide the much needed theatrical impact within the new 5.1 theatrical mix. The enhanced audio elements included all of the film's gunshots, and specifically the sound of (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Tony Montana's grenade launcher, as used in the climactic final gun battle just after uttering those memorable words "Say hello to my little friend!!" It is indeed a great pity that the decision wasn't taken to use these new audio embellishments for the new DVD transfer as well, as it would have substantially improved the film's presentation for DVD home theatre. So why, oh why, wasn't this done?.....
|Surround Channel Use|
All extras are contained on disc 2 and are presented full frame (with excerpts from the film at 2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced) and with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, unless otherwise stated. Note that all extras also come with a choice of 8 different subtitle languages, including English. The video and audio quality of all the extras is very good, unless otherwise stated.
This is a ripper of a documentary too. It includes interviews with numerous cast and crew, including the main stars, the director, producer, writer and cinematographer. It covers such topics as the original 1932 film that inspired the idea for a modern version, problems encountered agreeing on a suitable setting and character style for the re-write, how the film was cast, how Al Pacino came upon his dialect and character style, the shooting locations and why they had to move principal photography from Miami, Brian de Palma's handling of the most violent scenes, the shooting style adopted for the film, the humour of the film, composing the score, problems with obtaining a suitable rating for the final cut, the film's poor reviews on opening, and finally the difficult job for a TV executive wanting to clean up the film for general broadcast. It is a great documentary, up among the best "making-of"s I have seen for depth of understanding of the feature. A warning though that this documentary contains several plot spoilers, so do make sure you watch - or re-watch, as the case may be - the feature first.
Deleted Scenes (22:39)
Probably better titled "Deleted and Extended Scenes", as this extra shows a couple of scenes that we do see in the film, just edited down or from different angles. Then there are completely deleted scenes too. This extra does not come with director introduction or selectable director commentary, however the scenes don't really require it, as it's pretty obvious why these scenes were cut when you watch them. Some of the footage here also includes time before the "action" or after the "cut", allowing you to see the characters warming up or reacting afterwards, which is interesting. Whilst this extra is ostensibly also the same extra as already available on the previous DVD release, the keen-eyed will note this time we get an additional five and a half minutes worth in the extra.
Theatrical Trailer (3:23) and Teaser Trailer (1:33)
These are presented in a video aspect ratio of 1.85:1, not enhanced. They are the same trailers as appeared on the previous extras package. The quality of the former trailer is not good, suffering from a grainy, very dark transfer, poor colour, and flat audio. Still, at least we get to see how the film was promoted so I'm not complaining.
Featurette: "Def Jam Presents: Origins Of A Hip Hop Classic" (20:34)
Coming with the very bizarre title - especially if like me you didn't know who the hell Def Jam was! - this is the only completely new extra to grace the Special Edition. It is a quite interesting inclusion to put the film into some perspective, at least for some of the film's audience. It turns out that Scarface had a huge impact on the hip hop culture, with everyone from musicians to actors to homeboys looking on the film as at heart more of a ghetto tale than just a drug tale or gangster story. What appealed to this audience so much about the film? The story deals with the rise of a nobody, originally constrained by the circumstances in which he finds himself, to overcome those circumstances and finally make a name for himself. That, plus the attitude of the film, plus the power, the slang/culture and the loyalty code this film conveyed, all of these elements spoke to this audience in a big way. This extra provides a sort of analysis of the film from a hip hop perspective, including Tony Montana's "code" and where he and others went wrong. An interesting insight.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
In comparison to the new Region 4/2 2-disc Special Edition (as reviewed here), the original Region 4/2 1-disc release misses out on:
If it wasn't for the much improved video treatment, I would honestly say it is a marginal choice, as really the new 5.1 remasterings/remixes are only marginal improvements over the previous 4.0 remix. The new featurette is quite interesting, yet if it was down to just this and the new audio alone I would find it hard to justify recommending the higher price tag for the 2-disc set. However, once you take a look at the new video transfer and do a back-to-back comparison of some scenes, you will soon be convinced of the need to buy this Special Edition, even if you do already own the old version.
You should also be aware, for the sake of completeness, that the new Region 4/2 2-disc Special Edition doesn't bring across all of the extras and benefits from the old Region 4/2 1-disc release. As noted here, the Special Edition misses out on:
The fact that the new Special Edition doesn't bring across all of these previous extras is criminal in my view, as there was obviously space for them on the second disc. The substantial gallery of behind the scenes photos (OK, many just publicity shots and many in black and white, but still) plus the production notes were interesting inclusions last time. Yet these will not of themselves be factors to sway you back to the old release.
From all reports so far, the new Special Edition comes with identical specs and extras across the different regions, the only nominal difference I can see so far being that Region 1 also gets two additional audio languages, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. So you can buy the Region 4 with confidence - in fact, I would recommend it for its superior PAL resolution over the Region 1 NTSC.
The only other thing to mention here before you rush out and order the new Region 4 SE is that there is also a third release that has just been brought out in the US, a "Scarface 3-disc Deluxe Gift Set". But don't worry (I hear you groaning!), the good news is that this Deluxe Gift Set does not have any new exclusive extras on it unavailable in the normal Special Edition. Rather, all the Deluxe Gift Set does give you in addition is:
The decision as to whether or not you see this Deluxe Gift Set as value for money will depend on whether you are an avid collector of all things collectable or a serious fanatic of the film Scarface. For the rest of us though, the Deluxe Gift Set does not offer anything meaningful other than the chance to see the unrelated original 1932 film that only inspired the 1983 classic we now know and love.
This new Special Edition is a must-have in your DVD collection, even if you do already own the previous DVD release. In comparison to the previous release, the Special Edition boasts a substantially improved video transfer, marginally improved audio remixes but only largely the same extras.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using Component output|
|Display||Toshiba 117cm widescreen rear projection TV. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Yamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL).|
|Amplification||Elektra Theatre 150 Watts x 6 channel Power Amplifier|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears|