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Scarface: SE

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 163 mins . R . PAL


Personally I’ve always had trouble with gangster movies. Somehow I felt Hollywood glamourised them a little when they’re all two-bit thugs. So I’d never seen Scarface (the original or this version) until now. And while I feel this is an okay film, I don’t think all the raving I’ve heard over the years is justified.

Scarface tells the story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), a Cuban exile arriving in America without a cent to his name. Over the course of several years we follow his rise to fame and notoriety as the kingpin of the Miami cocaine industry. With his best friend, Manny (Stephen Bauer), he goes to work for Frank (Robert Loggia) and is soon his most trusted man. He organises the Colombians and the cocaine and is working his way up the ranks. Meanwhile, his sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) is all grown up and getting into cocaine herself. She and Manny are in love, but fear telling Tony for his over-protectiveness and violent leanings.

"All I have in this world is my balls and my word… and I don’t break ‘em for no one!"

As Tony’s empire grows, so does his distancing from everything he once held dear, until he is asked to take part in a hit on a Colombian political speaker who is intent on bringing the cocaine industry to a stop. This is the moment Tony’s empire begins to crumble as the human conflict within him threatens to overtake him.

What surprises about this film is Tony Montana is never directly referred to as ‘Scarface’. Of course we all know who he is and he has a big scar across his face, but I would have thought the expression would be used at least once. Pacino is brilliant in the role, there’s certainly no question of that. He brings the mildly-mumbling drawl of the Cuban accent to the film in inimitable Pacino style and is perfectly believable in the role. In fact I’m having trouble thinking of a more convincing role on his part.

He is supported by a perfectly able cast, with particular note going to Bauer as Manny. His fresh-faced best friend role is the softener to Tony’s outbursts of violence and illogic, and Bauer pulls it off in an even-keeled performance of subtlety and humour. Michelle Pfeiffer is about as cold and distant as Pluto throughout, making her character quite unlikeable, but then there aren’t many likeable characters In the whole film. Even the youthful and attractive Mastranonio turns ugly before the film’s claret-soaked conclusion.

So, while I didn’t mind the film, I wasn’t as impressed as I expected to be. But then, years of people going on about how good something is can tend to overhype things a great deal. In fact, it gets overhyped to the point where any film just can’t possibly measure up. That being said, the narrative is well told and completely credible, detailing Tony’s rise to the top in a slow-burning release of detail. This is sort of paradoxical, as Tony’s rise itself is quite swift. This means there are long moments between thrilling action and tension, but at least they are sporadically placed so as to not bore the audience for long (if at all). This is the only real flaw I found with the film. As good as it is, it runs a little too long at 163 minutes and every time the tension builds it gets released soon after which creates a series of mini-climaxes that start to annoy a little before the film is out.

However, it has been brilliantly shot and is an entirely watchable film. As noted, I’d not seen this film before so can’t compare it to any other releases on DVD, but I will say this 'Special Edition' has been well presented and transferred to look superb. Let’s take a look…


Well someone has obviously paid a little attention to this title in the transfer to DVD because it is richly rewarding video wise. Colours are bright and even and there are very few film artefacts around about. The worst is a horrible vertical black scar on the film stock around 1:41:18, which runs about 20 seconds or so. While this is definitely the worst artefact, it runs right down Pacino's face, giving him a second scar. Flesh tones, which are made-up to be a little darker, appear a little off on some folks, in particular Al Pacino and Robert Loggia. There are also occasional moments in which the flesh tones look a little bit orange which. needless to say, looks silly.

Shadow detail is surprisingly good for a film over 20 years of age and the blacks are true. The whole shebang is presented in the original bomber cinema aspect of 2.35:1 with anamorphic enhancement for the widescreen TV folks. Generally a great looking film and a fairly junk free transfer.


Two choices of sound here, but what choices. DTS 5.1 or Dolby Digital 5.1 surround bring every stray gunshot flying past your head alongside other notable surrounds like distant city noise, the beach, gulls and traffic. The sound is all clean without any static or noise and the subwoofer does a little, but not really as much as the surrounds. Those muffled Cuban accents give us the majority of dialogue and they sound fine, though I stumbled over a line or two.

I feel music is Scarface's weak point. With the film shot in 1983, the music is very of the time period and has been scored by Giorgio Moroder, that musical guy behind Electric Dreams. There is plenty of synthesiser and the opportunity to use more Cuban music is unfortunately wasted, concentrating more on the American dream motif and employing music accordingly. Oh well.


This two-discer features some fairly hardcore bonus stuff for the hardcore fans. The animated menus rate a mention here as they look sensational and feature a nice cool riff to go along with them.

The first extra is in the shape of The Rebirth of Scarface (10:11), a retrospective look at the comparison between the original prohibition gangster film and this drug-running re-make. There are some great discussions on the making of the film with director Brian De Palma, screenwriter Oliver Stone and producer Marty Bregman. Oliver Stone is notably honest here, referring to his own cocaine habit at the time and gives some great insight into the pre-production of the film.

Acting Scarface is a featurette that talks about the casting for the film, plus a history of the actors and their roles. New interviews with Pacino and Bauer are featured here in this 15-odd minute retrospective and it is, overall, a good watch.

Creating Scarface is really the making-of featurette and runs for a lengthy 29:37. This follows the usual formulas and is worth a look for some of the behind the scenes footage and facts.

Scarface – The TV Version is quite hilarious, regaling us with how a film containing 160 f-words (and scores of others) plus detailed violence is edited to fit with stricter TV censorship. This also features excerpts of the TV version, which get presented horribly in the TV pan and scan format. Definitely the humourous highlight of the extras, without question.

The deleted scenes are fairly uninteresting and in fact quite boring as they play without context in various stages of editing. In a film this long it might surprise you to know there are over 22 minutes of chopped stuff.

The un-enhanced theatrical trailer drops by for a huge 3:25 in 1.85:1 while the teaser trailer runs for a shorter 1:33. Both warrant investigation, though I can’t imagine a lot of second visits.

Finally, a featurette entitled Def-Jam Presents: Scarface – Origins of a Hip-Hop Classic. This runs too long at 20:34 and features a bunch of rappers and such discussing how much they respect and look up to Scarface himself. Maybe they didn’t see the end of the film, I dunno. I think it may have gone over their heads a little as big names like P.Diddy, Snoop Dogg and Mekhi Pfifer speak affectionately of their hero, Scarface.

This is a fairly large volume of stuff that will have any fan of the film (or looker-upper to Scarface) busy for some time.


Scarface has become one of the quintessential gangster films and here it has been transferred magnificently to easily look as good as it would have on the big screen (and probably better. There’s absolutely no doubt it is better than the TV version hinted at within). Pacino’s performance here cemented him as a big name and deservedly so; he is practically unrecognisable as he carves his way up the ranks. The claret runs freely, the swearing is constant and there’s some drug use (like an Uzi has some bullets).

I enjoyed it, but didn’t think it quite lived up to the hype I’ve received over the years. The transfer and extras treatment are excellent, however, and are bound to impress fans of the film or the gangster genre in general.

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=3806
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      And I quote...
    "Pacino rules the streets of Miami with an iron fist(ful of cocaine). Classic gangster violence in a brilliant transfer. "
    - Jules Faber
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Teac DVD-990
    • TV:
          AKAI CT-T29S32S 68cm
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Subwoofer:
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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