This review is sponsored by
|Category||Drama||Featurette - The Making Of
Cast & Crew Biographies
|Running Time||162:55 Minutes|
|Region||2,4||Director||Brian De Palma|
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English (Dolby Digital 4.0, L-C-R-S,
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192 Kb/s)
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.40:1||
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
The film concerns itself with the rise of Cuban refugee Tony "Scarface" Montana (Al Pacino) to become the head of a drug ring in Miami. The story itself is transplanted into the early 1980s, when Cuban dictator Fidel Castro opened the harbour at Mariel, Cuba, with the ostensible purpose of letting some of his subjects join their relatives in the United States. Over the next three days, three thousand American boats were headed for Cuba, evidently because Castro was forcing the boat owners to carry back not only their relatives, but the dregs of his prisons. 125,000 refugees landed in Florida during this time, with an estimated twenty percent of them having criminal records. While I doubt that more than half a percent of them were as vicious as Tony Montana, it's still quite a frightening thought, and it makes an interesting basis for a story.
Anyway, after a month in a refugee detention centre, Tony and his close friend Manny Rivera (Steven Bauer) are offered green cards and jobs in Miami. As is always the case in the underworld, they simply have to do the man making this offer a little favour. A man named Emilio Rebenga (Roberto Contreras), who was once one of Castro's most trusted generals, has turned up in the detention centre after falling from Castro's grace. While he was in power, however, he had tortured a few men to death, and now one of their brothers, who happens to be the same Miami businessman, wants the score settled. Convincing Tony to do the dirty work is an easy job, as is excellently summarized in his own words: "I'd kill a communist for fun, but for a green card, I'm gonna carve him up real nice". You really have to admire that sort of dedication to such a dirty business.
After Tony and Manny settle into jobs at a hamburger stand, they are offered another job by Omar (F. Murray Abraham), a go-between for Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), who happens to be the businessman who ordered the hit on Rebenga. Essentially, they must take a large sum of cash to a group of cocaine dealers and make an exchange. However, things quickly turn sour, and Angel (Pepe Serna), one of Tony's men, is killed in a chainsaw sequence the likes of which have only been seen since in such films as Evil Dead 2. After Tony and his surviving friends proceed to kill everyone they find in the hotel room, he and Manny are brought for a meeting with Lopez, during which he meets Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer). It's at this point which Tony decides to pay his mother (Miriam Colon) and his sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) a visit, but Mama Montana is less than impressed with him. From then on, we witness Tony rise to the top of the drug business, and then fall harder than even I have seen anyone fall before, thanks in no small part to sniffing too much of his own product.
After viewing this epic story of gangsters and drug importing, I have to agree with the moderate opinion, in that this film is entertaining and worth watching, but it is by no means a classic. Some restraint with the coarse language could have been used (this film held the record for usage of certain four-letter words beginning with F until Goodfellas came out seven years later), and the editing could have been more judicious. However, if you want to see another example of a story where there are no good guys, and everything depicted in the film could actually happen, Scarface is a good place to start. It's worth looking at once just for the hilarious reference to the true story of Al Capone ("But when you got a million-three undeclared dollars staring into a videotape camera, honey, baby, it's hard to convince a jury you found it in a taxicab").
The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and unlike the Region 1 version of this disc, it is 16x9 Enhanced. The sharpness of this transfer is generally very good, although not on par with contemporary transfers. The shadow detail is good, but nothing to get excited about, and there is no low-level noise. The brightness level varies up and down a little at 91:45.
The colour saturation of the transfer is muted in much the same way as the majority of other films from this period are, giving the film an overall look that seems straight from the pages of the Days Of Our Lives set decoration manual. There were no instances of colour bleeding, misregistration, or composite artefacts noted.
MPEG artefacts were mostly absent, but there was one subtle instance of macro-blocking around the edge of Arnaldo Santana's face from 97:08 to 97:30, or rather whenever his face was in frame during this sequence. I haven't seen this effect since the credits sequence of Desperado, a film that was similarly over-compressed to fit on the extras. You just can't expect to put a three hour film of this age and condition with this many extra features on one disc and not expect this problem, so further demerits to Universal for not giving this film the dual disc treatment it deserves.
Film-to-video artefacts consisted of a whopping amount of aliasing. The average examples of aliasing in this transfer were located at 13:26, 14:00, 18:21, 21:52, 33:18, 42:41, 44:53, 45:17, 46:51, 47:41, 57:42, 81:00, 91:45, 94:22, 95:23, 100:02, 100:55, 101:50, 118:16, 119:49, 122:07, 130:16, 132:29, 138:58, 148:47, and 149:27. Then there's the really bad examples of aliasing at 42:01 on Al Pacino's sunglasses, 87:11 on a pair of gun barrels, an extremely bad instance on some blinds at 90:11. Finally, there were numerous nicks, scratches, lines, and flecks all over the picture throughout the film, although these were acceptable considering its age.
This disc uses the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place a fraction of a second after Al Pacino says "so... what am I looking at here?", at 116:17. This position is terrible, as there is a perfect spot for the layer change at 99:16, which would have also allowed the film to be spread more evenly over the layers, which in turn may have helped prevent the previously mentioned MPEG artefact. The pause itself is jarring, but very brief, which would qualify as its one saving grace.
The dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand, although it takes some effort at times to understand what Al Pacino says in his thick, and obviously fake, Cuban accent. Indeed, many of the characters speak with thick accents that require a little more effort than normal to understand, although this gets a little easier to deal with as the film goes on. There were no discernible problems with audio sync.
The music in this film consists of some rather ordinary contemporary numbers that have dated a lot more than the film itself, and a rather interesting score by one Giorgio Moroder, whom I have never heard before. The score itself is based heavily upon synthesizers playing dramatically emphasized notes in minor keys, making it very heavy going to listen to. I think the score music is partly to blame for the empty, unsatisfied feeling I had when the film ended, although it's hard to tell considering what the story was like.
Scarface was originally presented in theatres with a four-track soundtrack, making this Dolby Digital 4.0 mix surprisingly faithful, especially compared to the Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded mix that the Region 1 disc is stuck with. Having the centre and surround channel discretely encoded rather than matrixed into the soundtrack makes quite the difference. The surround channel was used in an aggressive, although none too spectacular, manner that managed to give the film a slightly more immersive feel than one would normally expect. It was used frequently to support the music, passing cars, and other such directional sounds, although the soundtrack does collapse into monaural during the quiet dialogue sequences. Considering the age of the film, I'm willing to let that minor problem slide.
The subwoofer, although not specifically encoded into the soundtrack, was used frequently and aggressively to support the sounds of gunshots, chainsaws, cars, and explosions, which it did without calling any attention to itself.
The video quality is unacceptable, especially considering that I have seen thirty-eight year old films that look better than this. There are rampant problems with aliasing, and a rather unsettling MPEG artefact, which both make this a good disc to vote with your money on and wait until Universal come to their senses and remaster the transfer as a two-disc set.
The audio quality is very good, but not great.
The extras are comprehensive, but come at great expense
to the transfer.
© Dean McIntosh (my
bio sucks... read it anyway)
March 16, 2001
|DVD||Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output|
|Display||Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm) in 16:9 and 4:3 modes, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Audio Decoder||Built In (Amplifier)|
|Amplification||Sony STR-DE835, calibrated using the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Yamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NS-C120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer|