Scarface (1983) Review

It’s been said that Scarface glamorizes a lifestyle, a means of tough, gritty street survival that takes an unknown Cuban from the immigration office to a lavish, gold-laden paradise.

Then he’s brutally gunned down in a full on massacre.

If you’re looking at Scarface as a whole and still believe there’s justification because of the money, the movie has misled you… somehow. This is a hallmark of mainstream media violence for a reason, an unrelentingly vulgar and gruesome fall from grace. This character exists because of his own brute force, and falls for the same reasons.

Tony Montana (Al Pacino) is iconic both from a performance standpoint and his brash, aggressive style. His vengeful streak is almost unimaginable and seems to have no boundaries, shooting a man point blank in front of hundreds, dead center in the road. Montana doesn’t think so much as he reacts, creating a dangerous, forceful demeanor that rises him through the ranks of the local Miami cocaine scene.

Scarface takes its time as it pursues Montana, the opening a master shot of Pacino’s gruff attitude as he’s questioned by authorities. It creates a sense for pacing and tone, all the while establishing a character whose toughness is pure survival. When that shift happens, Montana turning women into trophies he feels entitled to and cocaine into a currency; he’s complacent. It’s no longer about his survival or becoming something so much as it is about owning the world. The terrifying thing is that there’s a belief that is reality in Tony’s mind.

Money changes people; maybe the message here is that simple. A history of real life drug lords shows as they rise to prominence, they only set themselves up to fall swifter. Scarface shows there’s some morality left, even at the top, Montana slaughtering the second in command of a Bolivian dealer to protect children. Afterward, he’s beating his sister, blowing up during a dinner with his wife, and murdering those closest to him. Even if there’s humanity remaining, the fortune turned into destiny. Scarface is a tragedy of greed, drugs, and hard lessons, hardly a glorification.

Movie ★★★★★ 

Is it too much to ask for Universal to get a catalog title right one time? That’s all anyone could ask for, and Scarface seemed like the chance for Universal to turn themselves around. Popularity dictates you’ll sell a ton of copies, but if the public keeps snapping them up, the incentive isn’t there when you’re a mega-studio. As such, Brian De Palma’s sweeping crime epic comes under the Universal gun, given the immediate graces of visible edge enhancement.

This disc is a little more subtle, save for those few instances of glaring halos. The sharpening is stealthy, causing the grain structure to rise to an unnatural prominence. That leads to encode problems where the compression isn’t able to keep up. Artificial sharpening becomes a one-two punch. On top of that, it creates a glaring environment where shimmering and aliasing are allowed to breed throughout the frame. Look at Pacino’s checkered pants as he works at the cafe, or the grill/door lines of any car.

Noise reduction has been employed, although like the EE, it’s a little harder to see. Most of the after effects reside in medium shots, where filtered, waxy faces or plastic-looking trees begin to reveal Universal’s needless tampering. Scarface can fool you. After all, there is a grain structure, and a handful of close-ups are startling in their detail. Anywhere else, this one begins to collapse and lose fidelity.

Were it that simple, the disc may have been given a pass. Unfortunately, color saturation is heavy, creating flesh tones that have never been this orange, and primaries that exceed their boundaries. As Montana takes his first job, he’s wearing a neon red/orange shirt that is about eight ticks too bright compared to the rest of the image. The red carpeting leading up to his mansion office is equally bled out.

Scarface continues its murderous HD rampage with abhorrent black crush. During an in-car conversation with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Steven Bauer, her hair is lost to the interior. It’s as if her head has become one with the vehicle. It’s a desperate attempt to make this ’80s film stock “pop,” because that look is more popular, even if most people set their TVs to Vivid and let it do the work. There’s no need to make everyone who cares about authenticity suffer.

To even things out, there is a definite resolution benefit afforded to this Blu-ray, a glancing comparison to a DVD edition resulting in clear improvement. The source material has been preserved beautifully, and any age defects wiped out. For three hours, this one rolls by without any scratches or specs, nor does it present any signs of fading. The worst shots are those with dated dissolve techniques or optical zooms; not even the studios fancy processing can salvage those. That said, it clearly doesn’t help them either.

Video ★★☆☆☆ 

Remastered in 7.1 because the numbers make it sound better (?), the process here has taken a dated source and moved it around. Benefits are clear though, the spirited electronic soundtrack takes an immediate presence. Individual notes are spread into the extra surrounds and they sound entirely natural in their placement.

Stereo mixing is passionate too, the grueling chainsaw sequence moving from a window where TV audio slides to the right, introducing a car radio in the left, before the whole process is repeated in reverse for the return. Clubs, and in turn their music, become hot beds of surround activity. Fidelity is fantastic, the ’80s era tunes never missing a chance to impress.

Where this updated mix goes wrong is gunfire. It’s too punchy and too loud. The rather meager source fidelity is revealed just for the sake of having something whip around into the rears. Bullets firing off are more of an irritation than an immersion technique. They would have been better served sticking the stereos. The attempt to expand audio lessens the crazed impact of the finale, the grenade launcher blowing off the front doors without any sense as to where the audio effect should sit. It becomes a clone in the stereos and rears, further muddying the quality.

Dialogue is passable, free of any of distortion or lapses in consistency save for some obvious dubbing. An occasional echo will add some life to the environment, smartly employed unlike during the shoot outs. The slightly dry quality adds a vintage flavor to the piece, further placing it in a specific time period. Taking it away with aggressive restoration wouldn’t feel right.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Universal produces a single new bonus feature for the Blu-ray, titled The Scarface Phenomenon. This a 40-minute retrospective that looks back while also looking forward as to what the film will mean to people as time passes. Deleted scenes surpass the 20-minute mark, followed by the first featurette, The World of Tony Montana. DEA agents discuss the realities of his crimes and how they compare to reality.

The Rebirth discusses how the film brought to life a lost sub-genre, The Acting continuing although on a more self-explanatory path, and The Creating is the core making-of. Together, those three near the hour mark. A making-of for the video game version is clearly dated, but at least they brought it over. A funny look at the TV edits are here too, along with D-Box and BD-Live support. For added fun, U-Control offers a body and F-bomb counter, alongside picture-in-picture featurettes culled from the pieces above.

Extras ★★★★☆