Scarface, written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian DePalma, was originally panned by critics, but it has spawned a cult following of astounding proportions. It has turned into the classic gangster film to stand next to The Godfather and Good Fellas. Any movie fan can quote dialog from Scarface and throw in impersonations of its main character without even thinking. If that's not the definition of a cult classic, what is?
Scarface tells the story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino) and his pal Manny (Steven Bauer), fresh off the boat from Cuba, who violently climb the ladder to the top of the Miami cocaine empire. And Scarface doesn't hold back on the violence. It is readily available and rather frightening. It's this fear of the violence, which can occur at any moment in the film, that gives this film the tension necessary to build the story around Tony. A story that needs to be true to work.
But violence isn't the essence of Scarface or the reason why the film has grown in popularity. It works because, in a way, Tony is every man. He's just trying to live the American Dream. Sure, his is the American Dream gone crazy: Drugs, money, women, and killing. And once he begins to make money and get the finer things in life, he only wants more. At first, he is a man driven. He sees something he wants, he does what it takes to get it. Eventually, he becomes a man obsessed.
His first goal is to get money and power. He gets this by killing and selling drugs. Then by taking out Frank (Robert Loggia), his "employer." Of course, the story of man who wants everything wouldn't work without a love interest. In Scarface, this love comes in two shapes. One is Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer), the beautiful girl he wants to control and make his own. The other is his sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), a woman he can never have yet one he will never allow to escape him. Both women play a key role in Tony's downfall, mostly because he is unable to love. He's a man with so much power and so much money, yet he can't attain that one thing he needs most.
Tony is the ultimate anti-hero. He's a low-life. A Cuban refugee hoodlum turned drug dealer. He's a murderer and cusses worse than any drunk sailor I can imagine. Yet despite his faults, it's hard not to pull for him, at least a little, as he tries to make a place for himself in this world. This is true because he has morals, he has rules. Certainly, his ideas of right and wrong are skewed, but until his inevitable downfall, he sticks to his code. He becomes a powerful, rich man by sticking to what he believes in. He's a bad guy, but one whose basic premise we can relate to and root for.
Yet we all know that Tony's story won't end well. This simply prolongs the tension. Every storyline moves in such a way that trouble is expected at any time. And when it doesn't appear, the next scene is just that much more tense. And when he finally does fall, there's a sense of relief, but also a sense of sadness, because you've watched this man go from having nothing to having everything, only to succumb to the darkness.
The violence and the dark theme of this tale are definitely intriguing on the surface. But there's more to it, which is what makes Scarface the classic it has become.
Universal presents Scarface in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio enhanced for widescreen televisions, and it's never looked better. The murkiness, the graininess, and most of the scratches readily evident on the previous release are gone. In their place you get solid detail and bright, vivid colors, the latter of which is key to many scenes that feature vibrant reds and pastels. This transfer is noticeably brighter than the first release, and better for it. Skin tones and daylight scenes seem to be more accurate this time around. However, some of the dark shadows are still a tad too dark and some detail is lost there. It should be noted that this is most likely a problem (if you can call it that) of the filming/lighting, not of the DVD transfer. Some edge enhancement is still evident in high contrast scenes, but these are few and never become too distracting. Although it may not quite stand up to some newer releases, this great transfer does indeed score high marks considering the source element.
Like the video presentation, the audio also gets better treatment this time around. Scarface is presented here in a number of audio formats: 5.1 DTS, 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish mono, and French mono. The 5.1 tracks sound great, but the DTS version earns a slight edge with a more crisp sound. However, you can't go wrong with either track. Dialog is clear and well placed, and the movement between the front channels works nicely. Rears are used sparingly, but work well when used. Plus, the music sounds great, with a little deeper tone than I was expecting. The only mark against either English track is the lack of a low end, particularly with gunshots and explosions. I don't want to make it seem like these elements sound too tinny, they simply lack the boom I've come to expect.
Along with these fine audio selections, this DVD also offers Spanish and French subtitles, and the film is close captioned for the hearing impaired.
THE BONUS FEATURES
I was expecting more from this re-release (where's the commentary?). Basically, all you get are revised or updated goodies that are found on the original release. This isn't necessarily a bad thing since the documentary on the original is great, but you want a studio to go that extra mile when releasing a classic a second time.
The best bonus feature is the documentary. Each chapter ("Scarface: The Rebirth," "Scarface: Acting," and "Scarface: Creating") can be viewed separately, or the entire 55-minute feature can be viewed continuously. What you get is essentially the same documentary showcased on the original DVD, just edited slightly different with alternate clips from the film, new title sequences, and additional interview snippets. The biggest addition is an interview with Steven Bauer that is interlaced with the previous footage. This is a great documentary that is both in-depth and interesting, but with the Bauer interview, I couldn't help but wonder why Universal didn't try to get comments from Pfeiffer or Mastrantonio.
Next up is the featurette "Scarface: The Television Version." This is basically the same as the one found on the original disc, but you can't access it as part of the documentary and it offers a few more comparison shots of the film version and the edited version. This is good stuff, but why Universal chose not to include this portion in the "Play All" option is beyond me.
You also get 22 minutes of deleted scenes. These include those found on the original version with a few more thrown in for good measure.
The last featurette is "Def Jam Presents: Origins of a Hip-Hop Classic." This 20-minute show offers some interesting perspectives on the film from how Tony inspired hip-hop musicians to the reasons for Tony's downfall. Interviews include actor Mekhi Phifer and rappers Snoop Dogg, Nas, and Eve.
Also on tap are current cast and crew filmographies.
This 2-disc set offers some pretty cool animated menus that showcase a collage of film images interlaced with black-n-white art in the same style as the original one-sheet. Naturally, the menus also feature some powerful music timed perfectly with the moving images.
If you've been holding out for a better DVD version of Scarface, now's the time to buy. Although I wouldn't call the special features superior to the original version, the audio and video are definitely a step up. For those looking to upgrade, this 2-disc set is only a necessity for those who can't stand the audio/video of the original DVD. In other words, it's time to upgrade.