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Details At A Glance

Category Drama Featurette - The Making Of Scarface
Production Notes
Cast & Crew Biographies
Theatrical Trailers
Rating r.gif (1169 bytes)
Year Released 1983
Running Time 162:55 Minutes
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (116:17)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Brian De Palma
Universal.gif (3614 bytes)
Columbia Tristar
Starring Al Pacino 
Steven Bauer
Michelle Pfeiffer
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio
Robert Loggia
Miriam Colon
Case Soft Brackley
RPI $36.95 Music Giorgio Moroder

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English (Dolby Digital 4.0, L-C-R-S, 384 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, 192 Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9Yes.jpg (4536 bytes)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.40:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    Scarface is a remake of the 1932 film of the same name, updated by placing the story in 1980s Miami and making the lead character a Cuban refugee. With a screenplay by Oliver Stone, you're either going to love or hate this film, but at least Al Pacino gives it his all in yet another memorable performance. Scarface has divided critical and regular opinion for some time, with one camp describing it as a masterpiece, while others claim it is highly overrated. I guess it all really depends on how you look at the film, or what your tastes are.

    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").

Transfer Quality


    The first thing you will notice about this transfer is that, in contrast to other epic films I could mention, the film and the extras have all been compressed onto a single disc. This would be all well and good, except for the fact that the source material in this case was in less than optimum shape, and it often shows.

    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 audio transfer is, thankfully, slightly better than the video transfer. There are two soundtracks provided on this DVD: the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 4.0 (Left, Centre, Right, and Surround) with a bitrate of 384 kilobits per second, and a German dub in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono with a bitrate of 192 kilobits per second. I listened to the English dialogue, not having the wish to sit through the film again in order to listen to any of the German soundtrack.

    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 menu is static, accompanied by the usual annoying Universal icons, and is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Featurette - The Making Of Scarface

    Selecting this option gives a submenu with the options Play and Chapter List. For some odd reason, the first page of the Chapter List contains links to the other extras. In any event, this extra is the reason why this disc is so noticeably overcompressed, and it would have justified an extra disc by itself. Clocking in at fifty-two minutes and twenty-five minutes, this extra brings the total amount of video data contained on the disc to just under four hours, which might be well and good with a recent film where the source material was in pristine condition, but it is far from acceptable when the film has aged this badly. In any case, the featurette is presented Full Frame, with footage from the film at 2.35:1, and encoded with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Like the rest of the extras, it is not 16x9 Enhanced.


    Clocking in at seventeen minutes and one second, this featurette is presented Full Frame, with excerpts from the film in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It is not 16x9 Enhanced.

Theatrical Trailers

    Clocking in at four minutes and fifty-five seconds, this collection of trailers is not 16x9 Enhanced. Each trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound.

Production Notes

    A series of notes about the making of the 1932 original and the 1983 remake. Worth reading once.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies for Al Pacino, Steven Bauer, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, and director Brian DePalma are provided under this menu. They are readable, and mildly interesting.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;     The Region 1 version of the disc is presented without 16x9 Enhancement, and with a Dolby Digital 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack that reportedly suffers from constant hiss. As much as I hate to say it, both discs appear to be duds.


    Scarface is a valiant effort to update a classic that has sharply divided critics, but I can't imagine the original translating into the modern world with the same impact. Viewers are advised to make sure they keep something that will lift their spirits close by throughout the film. Interestingly, screenwriter Oliver Stone states in one of the featurettes that he didn't care for Paul Muni's original version all that much.

    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.

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
March 16, 2001

Review Equipment
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