Director Brian De Palma and screenwriter Oliver Stone’s Scarface arrives on Blu-ray, no doubt bringing great joy to its legion of fans. The 1983 crime epic received decidedly mixed notices from critics during its original run. To its detractors, Al Pacino’s portrayal of drug kingpin Tony Montana was considered over the top. Michelle Pfeiffer, very early in her career, was labeled the opposite – boring and wooden. The nearly three hour running time seemed excessive to many, considering the plot isn’t exactly labyrinthine in design. And the constant graphic violence and free-flowing expletives were viewed as needlessly excessive.
Fast forward over a quarter century later, Scarface is hailed by many as a classic. However, many of those complaints hold true. The film runs nearly three hour, wearing out its welcome by at least a half hour. Pacino dispenses of all the subtlety of his truly great performances (Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Godfather I and II), turning Montana into a grotesque caricature. The movie has gained immense popularity, reflexively referred to as a masterpiece of the organized crime genre. Despite these claims, Scarface remains terminally shallow. The flimsy characterizations are a reflection of Stone’s threadbare storytelling in the screenplay.
Cuban refugee Tony Montana arrives in Miami and quickly becomes involved in the dealing of drugs, taking up with a dealer named Frank (Robert Loggia, another reliable actor wasted here). Tony takes Frank’s girlfriend Elvira (Pfeiffer, displaying none of the smoky charisma that would make her a star). He kills his way to the upper echelon of the Miami drug scene. Life begins to spiral out of control as Tony delves further and further into cocaine addiction.
A life of crime won’t get you anywhere in the end, as Scarface makes bluntly clear. Along the way there are lots of gruesome deaths and mountains of coke snorted. But if you’re watching the movie for those elements (and the multitude of oft-quoted lines, à la “Say hello to my little friend,” which have become crushingly boring clichés), the movie should be viewed as something of a guilty pleasure and nothing more.
It’s hard to imagine Scarface looking better on a home video format than it does on Blu-ray. The 1080p VC-1 encode offers a consistently strong image. As always with older movies, there is justified concern over whether digital noise reduction will be applied. Most of Scarface still looks authentically grainy, with a natural film-like quality indicative of the period in which it was made. The colors have never looked more vivid, especially blood red. Some of the darker scenes are lacking in fine detail, but overall the level of detail is quite impressive. There weren’t any noticeable problems with the source print, which was free of dirt specs and scratches.
The audio presentation is fairly spectacular, considering the age of the film. The 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio surely stands as reference quality for a film produced in the early 1980s. The dialogue remains intelligible and distortion-free throughout. The rear channels are primarily used for ambiance given that there are long stretches of talking. Crowd scenes, nightclub scenes, and anything outdoors offers a believable soundscape. But things spring to life in a truly exciting manner during the gunfire-driven action scenes, with chaotic noise emanating from all channels. The subwoofer booms satisfactorily during such scenes as well, providing perfect contrast to the quieter, dialogue-driven scenes.
As for supplemental features, there is a second disc – a standard DVD – containing the 1932 Howard Hawks’ Scarface, starring Paul Muni. This will be nothing new for owners of the previous special edition DVD. In fact, most of the special features are standard definition short pieces ported over from the old DVD release, including 20 minutes of deleted scenes. Exclusive to Blu-ray is a 40-minute HD featurette, “The Scarface Phenomenon,” which is a welcome addition considering all the recycled material. This piece, as the title suggests, focuses on the controversial aspects of the film and its on-going influence.
Also included on the Blu-ray are two U-Control features, one of which is a waste of time. Returning from the 2006 DVD release, “Scarface Scoreboard” is a lame counter that keeps tracks of the number of bullets shot and F-words uttered throughout the movie. The other U-Control feature is more worthwhile – a newly created picture-in-picture track that includes interview snippets. There is also some light shed on the differences between the 1932 Scarface, the theatrical cut of the 1983 film, and the edited version that aired on network television. Though many of these clips appear elsewhere in the featurettes, it is still a decent enhanced viewing mode.
For fans with significant disposable income, a limited “Humidor” edition of available. In terms of Blu-ray content, this is the same version of the film. The standard steelbook comes housed in a working, custom-made humidor crafted by the renown humidor-maker Daniel Marshall. This edition is very limited, with only 1,000 humidors available worldwide. The suggested retail price is $999.99, making it a luxury item for many people.