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
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