Review: Scarface Blu-ray Steelbook

Scarface Blu-ray boxSTUDIO: Universal | DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma | CAST: Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Robert Loggia, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Paul Shenar, Harris Yulin, F. Murray Abraham
RELEASE DATE: 9/6/2011 | PRICE: Blu-ray $34.98
BONUSES: featurettes, U-Control features, deleted scenes, BD live functions, more
SPECS: R | 170 min. | Crime drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and DTS 2.0 Stereo | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

ScarfaceScarface co-star Steven Bauer sums up the worship, relevance, controversy, influence and criticism of the 1983 film in one roaring statement in “The Scarface Phenomenon,” a 40-minute featurette that’s one of the only new supplements found on Universal’s long-awaited Blu-ray edition of the film: “It’s not a human story that everybody can relate to — it’s fucking Dante’s Inferno!” Right on!

The cocaine-drenched Scarface is one of those galvanizing movies that gets a different reaction from everyone. It’s the gospel for some, a rich, contemporary crime saga for others, a delicious guilty pleasure for still more, and so on. Conversely, there are those who just don’t get what all the chatter is about.

But legions of fans of Brian De Palma’s (Dressed to Kill) film get downright fiery about it — and not just as a movie, but as a vital addition to their home entertainment libraries, whatever its configuration. This is not lost on the executives of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, who’ve been releasing updated VHS and DVD editions of the film for more than a quarter of a century.

Universal’s Blu-ray edition is undeniably a handsome-looking piece, packaged in a cool steel box containing 10 slick art cards inspired by the movie as well as a DVD version of the same-named 1932 Howard Hawks (Rio Lobo) gangster film upon which De Palma’s film is based.

As for the high-definition presentation of the film itself, well it’s pretty handsome too. Star Al Pacino’s (Carlito’s Way) titular facial laceration is uglier, the blood runs redder, the hot Miami sun burns brighter, the nightclubs lights are more garish and the machine gun bursts are flashier. Yes, it’s the best version of Scarface I’ve ever seen on my home screen, but does it look much better than Universal’s 2003 Special Edition DVD? Well, not that much better.

But the sound is a different story. The 7.1 audio mix adds considerable heft to Scarface’s explosive soundscape of machine gun fire, grenade launchers and manic crowd scenes, while still allowing a clear portal for screenwriter Oliver Stone’s (Platoon) brash dialog. And the dialog isn’t just confined to the front speakers. It frequently snakes its way around to the back, along with many background sounds and Giorgio Moroder’s throbbing, oh-so-1980s score.

The complement of bonus features on the Blu-ray disc includes virtually all the supplements we’ve seen on previously issued DVD editions — the featurettes, the deleted scenes, the meter that tracks the number of times the “F word” is uttered and so on.

The main new addition, The Scarface Phenomenon, is mildly diverting but doesn’t offer anything to fans that they don’t already know. Talking heads in the piece include film critics, writers, filmmakers, cast members (including Bauer, Robert Loggia, Richard Belzer and Angel Salazar), archival De Palma and, bafflingly, TV hostess Jillian Barberie, who gushes over her “favorite movie of all time.”

The Universal U-Control’s picture-in-picture function recycles a lot of previously seen material along with new additions from cast and crew members (many of whom appear in the Scarface Phenomenon featurette). There are a lot of fun nuggets embedded in the mix, like the film’s stunt coordinator talking about how the infamous chainsaw scene was choreographed, or Cocaine Cowboys documentarian Billy Corben describing the real-life Miami of 1980s (which is dangerously similar to the one on the screen).

There are also a bunch of pop-ups of parallel scenes from the Hawks’ original film and edited versions of sequences as they appeared on network TV, all of which are fun to compare and contrast. Again, this bonus will be only passable for some, but fans will definitely eat it all up.

That said, if you’re a fan, stop reading and go buy it already.


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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.