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Universal Studios Home Video presents
Scarface (Platinum Edition) (1983)

"Say goodnight to the bad guy."
- Tony Montana (Al Pacino)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: October 26, 2006

Stars: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Robert Loggia, F. Murray Abraham
Director: Brian De Palma

MPAA Rating: R for (lots of violence, lots of profanity, lots of cocaine, lots and lots of really bad taste)
Run Time: 02h:49m:47s
Release Date: October 03, 2006
UPC: 025193102324
Genre: gangster

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Mmm, mmm, you can smell the testosterone. Written by Oliver Stone. Directed by Brian De Palma. Starring Al Pacino. Has there ever been a manlier film than Scarface? It's so over the top that it becomes gangster picture as opera buffa, and the one compelling question about the movie may be why it's become the crime picture of choice for a new generation, with Tony Montana's mug festooned on t-shirts and video games. It's every gangsta's favorite flick, one that offers a bounty of choices for cell phone ringers. It's probably not much of a mystery, actually, but you've got to question people's love of this movie, because it defines overwrought. I know it's got its earnest partisans, and it's got its share of so-good-it's-bad ironists (cf. Showgirls), but anybody fair minded would have to admit that while there are highlights, there are lots of dead patches in this picture that runs close to three hours.

The setup is actually kind of brilliant—a remake of Howard Hawks' 1932 gangster classic, the action moved to Miami circa 1980, in the wake of the Mariel boatlift. (The film is actually dedicated to Hawks and his screenwriter, Ben Hecht, though whether or not they would be flattered by this particular tip of the hat is an open question. Also, we learn in the supplementary material that this transposition was the idea of Sidney Lumet, who was briefly attached to the project.) Pacino plays Tony Montana, Cuban criminal turned Florida dishwasher, and the movie is the story of his rise and fall, to the top of the cocaine pyramid and then down in a blaze of glory. Tony's vocabulary consists almost entirely of profanities—it's not offensive, really, but it does become kind of numbing, and the performance is in many respects the fulcrum of Pacino's career, the move from Michael Corleone, Sonny and Serpico to the Kabuki period of Scent of a Woman and The Devil's Advocate. (Hoo-ah!) He also sports the thickest accent since Natalie Wood's in West Side Story, but you've got to hand it to him for cutting loose—it's a crazed and unrestrained performance, at least as cartoony as his turn in Dick Tracy.

Like many film gangster before him, Tony's got some issues with women, here made manifest by Michelle Pfeiffer as Elvira, a coke princess that he steals from the boss he unseats (a most unsubtle Robert Loggia), and especially his little sister, Gina, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, the virgin to Elvira's whore in Tony's crude morality. This is in many ways a movie about wretched excess, and nothing is done without gusto, ranging from the gold chains around the gangsters' necks to the saturated reds and blacks of the production design to the mountains of cocaine in which Tony rabidly buries his nose. Loggia has rivals, too, both as a gangster boss and as a ham—the most egregious is likely F. Murray Abraham, and in comparison, Steven Bauer's turn as Tony's lifelong compadre is downright Beckettian.

The contours of the tale are familiar—Tony makes his bones and gets his green card by killing a Castro apostate in a detention camp, and we follow him through to the final comeuppance, all of it blood-soaked, much of it grisly. The movie is kind of inventive about its sadism, too—the mind reels when you think about what a savage coke dealer can do to an enemy with a chainsaw in a motel shower stall. (These fellows make Norman Bates look like a cub scout with a pen knife.) But on some level Elvira gets it right about Tony after a point: "Can't you stop saying 'f**k' all the time? You're boring." And even tarted up with self-conscious, unmotivated film-schooly camera moves, De Palma's story is a little dull—you get the sense that the technical showmanship is there exclusively to detract us, and that the filmmakers fell too in love with their footage to give it the rigorous cutting it so clearly needs. There are some great little arias, but you may want to keep your finger on the fast forward button to get to them—that is, as long as the other hand is on your bling and you've got someone you trust cutting you your next line.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Some of the reds have bled, so to speak, and don't look as strong and saturated as they did when the film was released theatrically. Otherwise, John Alonzo's photography is well transferred, though the frame can look a little jittery at times, and the matte shots look particularly clumsy and fake.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanish, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Giorgio Moroder's synthesizer-heavy score sounds reedy and so 1980s all throughout; whichever audio option you go with, you'll be able to hear it and all of the baroque dialogue in its FCC-unfriendly glory.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish, French with remote access
15 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
4 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray with slipcase
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Scarface Scorecard (see below)
Extras Review: The film is on the first disc, along with a scorecard, an option to watch the feature with a running count of F bombs and number of bullets fired; all the rest is on the second disc, starting with a package (22m:29s) of fifteen deleted scenes. Most are from early in the running time, and are little more than connective tissue—in fact, the most interesting thing about them are the glimpses at the crew just before and after the included takes. It's all about vertical integration with a look (12m:04s) at the making of the Scarface video game. The World of Tony Montana is a discussion with magazine editors and DEA special agents at the excess of it all, and its influence.

Sitting for new interviews were Pacino, De Palma, Stone, Alonzo, producer Martin Bregman and actor Steven Bauer, and they pop up in the next series of documentaries. The Rebirth (10m:09s) is about the idea for the remake, and includes clips from the original; David Rabe was on the project as a writer at one point, and Stone is candid about taking the gig for the paycheck. Pacino dominates The Acting (15m:06s), discussing taking an almost Brechtian approach to Tony—he was working on a production of Arturo Ui just before, though I suspect that the influence of postwar German theatrical techniques on the film do not account for its new currency. (To remain in character, Pacino asked that Alonzo speak to him only in Spanish.) The Creating (29m:34s) is a collection of stories from the shoot, which went on for a long, long time. Finally, and perhaps most entertaining of all, are a package (02m:49s) of scenes from the film edited for television, and show just how bowdlerized this all had to be for broadcast.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Manliness abounds, and this is the very definition of over-the-top filmmaking. Fans of the picture don't want to hear me to carp, but you'll probably need a strong stomach and more time than you care to spend to savor every last morsel. Still, even if you're like me and among the unconvinced, you'll likely come away spouting some of the film's dialogue for days.


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