Return to Table of Contents
21 Grams page 2page 3
Metadatapage 2page 3
DVDpage 2page 3
American Cinematographer Magazine

Scarface (1983)
20th Anniversary Edition
2.35:1 (16x9 enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Universal Home Video, $26.90

When Brian De Palma approached veteran cinematographer John A. Alonzo, ASC about photographing a remake of Howard Hawks' classic Scarface (1932), De Palma told Alonzo to "light it as beautifully as you can - the film noir elements will come out of the performances, not the look." Alonzo did just that, shooting what De Palma has described as the "acrylic, high-tech, pastel glitz of South Florida in the 1980s." Indeed, the lush, lurid landscape of the film's sets and locations were handsomely captured by Alonzo's anamorphic cinematography, creating a gaudy, slick backdrop for the updated gangster tale.

Screenwriter Oliver Stone sets the action in the drug-trafficking arena of South Florida, just after Fidel Castro's infamous "Mariel Drop" sent boatloads of "undesirables," many of them criminals, to the United States. Forced to wait in internment camps and eager to be good capitalists, some of the Cuban immigrants make easy recruits for the booming cocaine-distribution rackets in Florida. One such Cuban, Tony Montana (Al Pacino), nicknamed for an unfortunate scar down his face, quickly sees that being a dishwasher will never help him achieve the American dream he feels he is owed. Tony tells his friends he wants everything - in fact, he wants the world.

Displaying ferocious self-confidence, Tony proceeds to browbeat and murder his way to the top of the cocaine-trafficking heap. He even has the audacity to pursue Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer), the aloof gun moll who is married to his boss. Condemned as a degenerate criminal by his mother and rebuffed as "the help" by Elvira, Tony receives the approval he craves from his virginal sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrontonio). This ignites in Tony an incestuous obsession that proves to be lethal.

De Palma's Scarface has long been out of print on DVD. (In addition to being a steady collector's item, the 1998 DVD pressing is a popular bootleg.) To coincide with the film's recent theatrical re-release, Universal Home Video has produced this 20th anniversary two-disc set.

Disc one presents a sharp, gleaming new transfer of the film that vividly captures Alonzo's work. The nocturnal, neon-filled underworld where much of the film's action is set has not fared very well in earlier video transfers; this transfer corrects the grainy artifacts and occasional chroma noise that plagued the previous one. The new DTS audio presentation is vibrant, but with the exception of Giorgio Moroder's languid synth score and some shocking low-end bass registers on gunshots, the audio remains as it was intended in 1983, with most activity in the front soundstage of center, right and left channels.

Disc two presents a curiously reedited version of the Scarface documentary that was featured on the 1996 laserdisc and the 1998 DVD. In the original documentary, prolific DVD producer (and De Palma shadow) Laurent Bouzereau interviewed De Palma, Alonzo, Stone, Pacino and producer Martin Bregman. This "new" version includes additional interviews with Moroder and supporting actor Steven Bauer, but unfortunately, not all of the documentary's original footage is included. (Also borrowed from the laserdisc and previous DVD are 20 minutes of outtakes, an amusing TV-version comparison, and filmmaker profiles.)

The only new supplemental feature on this DVD is an unfortunate and frustrating effort called Def Jam Presents: Origins of a Hip-Hop Classic. In this 25-minute piece, hip-hop stars such as Snoop Dogg, Eve and an obsequious P. Diddy testify to the film's significant influence on their oeuvres and lifestyles, calling Scarface a "ghetto classic." Though a few artists are quick to point out the horror of Tony's excesses, some of them - sitting in homes clearly inspired by those excesses - say they see him as a hero.

This brutal, engrossing melodrama remains one of the more accomplished and entertaining features De Palma made following his infamous "Hitchcock period." Although fans of Scarface might want to retain the 1998 DVD for its more definitive supplements, they should consider acquiring this special edition primarily for the new feature transfer. This reasonably priced DVD offers a transfer of both image and sound that is clearly a buzz cut above the rest.

- Kenneth Sweeney

Page 1


© 2003 American Cinematographer.