Scarface - Limited Edition Cigar Box Blu-ray Review
As many fans will have no doubt already discovered, Scarface’s UK Region Free Blu-ray debut is something of a mixed bag in terms of video presentation. The movie comes in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen, in 1080p High Definition, and, for the most part, looks spectacular; unfortunately it is littered with scenes which are tainted by edge enhancement, and tinged with DNR, the grain structure often violated as a direct result. It’s not apparent throughout, but it is impossible to miss, and whilst it does not prevent this from being a decent, noteworthy upgrade from previous SD-DVD releases, it does invoke a certain feeling of disappointment.
With the bad news out of the way we can move on to the many positive aspects of the video presentation, which boasts plenty of scenes that showcase superb, superior detail, both on longer shots and close-ups, with excellent fine object detail – for the most part. As soon as the opening credits sequence passes, with its montage of real video footage, we get to see the good stuff – Montana himself never having looked this good in the last 28 years; skin tones are accurate, tanned complexions are still healthy and natural-looking; with plenty of colours coming across as dull and faded as appropriate, whilst others look rich and vivid, risking bleeding, but seldom going that far.
Black levels are strong, perhaps too strong, and the darker the scene, the more likely you are likely to encounter a worrying lack of grain. Indeed the daytime shots fare the best, but are not completely devoid of digital issues, with haloing and ringing peppered sporadically throughout the runtime. It’s one of those presentations that is enjoyable, but far from perfect, and in fact the whole film feels tainted by incorrect contrast levelling; it is just that little bit too dark at all times. Still, as stated, it is hard to remember many moments where it was so bad that you are taken out of the movie – but, as soon as you go looking for problems, they are clear and present for you to find. It’s an upgrade, but a disappointing one, particularly given the love and attention that has been put into the rest of this Limited Edition release.
Things are much more satisfying in the aural department; this Blu-ray release comes complete with a powerhouse DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that will have you engaged and focussed right from the outset. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely dominating the frontal array – in fact this is quite a front-dominated offering overall, but that is not such a bad thing as there is plenty of surround support to provide the necessary all-round ambience. The soundtrack is both haunting and catching, only lapsing into pure cheese for bits like the montage sequence, and giving the surrounds plenty to do, even during the more frenetic moments. The way in which the effects are handled, however, is what really gives this track the edge; the more crowd-based scenes coming with an amazing atmosphere which thoroughly immerses you in the environment – from nightclub to detention centre to crowded streets. Even in the more localised setpieces there’s great attention to detail, every gun-hammer-click, every snort of cocaine, all the little minor observations keenly noted by the excellent track. Of course the crazier moments, where gunshots ring out all across the screen, simply ignite the soundstage, and similarly bring your living room veritably to life. LFE may not be prevalent, but still underscores the more powerful moments, and gives that added edge to the infrequent explosions. Overall a thoroughly engaging, demo-quality accompaniment.
The US-exclusive ultra-limited edition of Scarface comes with an actual humidor, hand-painted with a ‘1000-coat finish’, as well as a ludicrous $1000 list price. This UK-exclusive ‘regular’ limited edition is still pretty amazing and will do fine for all but the most extravagant cigar-chomping drug lords out there, coming in a lavish cigarbox-shaped case, housing the steelbook Blu-ray, as well as a lovely making-of booklet, a Tony Montana signature money clip, and a Green Card envelope which houses a Tony Montana dollar bill, a Tony Montana green card, and 3 nice artcards (all exclusive to the limited edition, and thus to the UK).
Unfortunately, whilst the UK get a much more affordable, yet still lavish box-set – which sports exactly the same wealth of extras as the US release (as well as DVD and Digital Copies of the 1983 movie) – there is one fairly significant item missing: the DVD copy of the original 30s Hughes Scarface movie. Hopefully any huge fans of the film will still have their old black SD-DVD box-set (a US-only release), which also came with an identical DVD copy of the original Scarface (complete with an alternate ending). For those who don’t, it will be a harder choice on which release (Region Free US Steelbook or Region Free UK Giftset) to pick up because, without a doubt, having the 94-minute original film is a much more significant ‘extra’ than the UK-exclusive packaging, booklet, and paraphernalia.
Getting down to the disc-housed extras themselves, this Blu-ray comes sporting everything from the previous special edition SD-DVD sets (Anniversary and Platinum), covering all of the bases, although we do have to settle for a PiP Video Commentary / Behind the Scenes track in the absence of an Audio Commentary, but, with such an excellent PiP track, that’s really not much of an issue.
Picture-in-Picture Track – First up we get arguably the disc’s best extra, a Blu-ray exclusive offering that rivals the best PiP tracks out there for quality content. With producer Martin Bregman, writer Oliver Stone, director Brian De Palma and star Al Pacino on-hand right from the outset we get all the best background information, charting the origins of the production, the casting, the script, shooting the film, the locations, the violence and the trouble they had with the censors, the controversy over the portrayal of Cubans in the film, the reaction at the time and the cultural impact over the subsequent decades. It’s a wonderful compilation of interview clips, behind the scenes footage, and comparison sequences from the original 30s film (as well as the massively edited TV version), with final film highlights to pad things out. Whilst it does incorporate most of the key elements from the subsequent individual extra features, as you will be able to tell when you read their content, there is no better way to get an all-round background knowledge into the Scarface legacy. Highly recommended.
Scarface Scorecard – This option is nothing more than a gimmick, plain and simple, and I’m really not sure how often even the most ardent fan is going to activate it, other than just to see what it does (and then immediately switch it offer again in favour of something more useful). All it does is tally the number of swear-words and bullets used throughout the film. Perhaps if they had this running whilst the PiP track was playing it would have been a vaguely useful addition, but as a standalone extra which cannot be used in tandem with the PiP track, it’s pretty pointless.
The Scarface Phenomenon – This comprehensive new 40-minute retrospective documentary (presented in HD) wastes little time with fluffy promo clips and back-patting testimony, instead covering a great deal of ground; with a whole host of contributors – both those who worked on the film, and other noteworthy filmmakers who have been influenced by it, all coming together to discuss the legacy of this masterpiece, its status as a cult classic and the cultural impact that it has had over the last few decades. A great little accompaniment that is well worth checking out.
Featurettes (mostly ported over from previous SD-DVD special editions)
The World of Tony Montana — This 12 minute interview-based offering allows real-life police officers and DEA officials to impart their (largely favourable) opinions on the movie and on the drug culture that has evolved over the last few decades.
The Rebirth — This 10 minute featurette looks at the inspiration for Scarface, the original 30s Howard Hughes production, with the key players – Bregman, De Palma, Stone and Pacino on-board to provide comparison comments, as well as the relevant clips to support their reflections.
The Acting — A little longer than its sister-piece, this quarter-hour offering looks at the cast members chosen for the piece, how they were selected, and what they brought to the production.
The Creating — Taking half-an-hour to look at the shoot itself; detailing the scouting of locations and the filming of the epic, and noting the on-screen and suggested violence, as well as the make-up, costumes and sets.
The TV Version — Just a three-minute glimpse, but the point is made as this little montage highlights the worst-affected scenes butchered for the TV version: some of the substituted dialogue is absolutely hilarious.
The Making of Scarface: The Video Game — Personally, I thoroughly loved the game, and it’s interesting here to have 12 minutes with the creators and contributing actors, who discuss the brainstorming ideas behind making the sequel, the plot required to bring it all together, and the way in which they brought Tony (and his world) back to life visually.
Most interestingly, these 22 minutes of deleted scenes were what was originally used to ‘pad out’ the TV version and make up for the 30-odd minutes of footage that was cut from it. Unfortunately, despite it being highly likely that there are better, cleaned up versions out there, all we have here are some dodgy b-roll snippets, complete with the director shouting ‘cut’ at the end of each scene. Still, it’s well worth checking them out, as most of them feature more from Pacino’s Montana, and a couple even have some great lines too (the planting of the bomb sequence is great, with the bomber hanging from under the car with his gun out because the police are cruising by, and Tony totally unfazed by it all; but the extended visit to Sosa – where we get to see his mistress – has the best line: “You know why Cuba is so screwed up? Because the country is in the Caribbean, the government is in Russia, the Army is in Angola, and all the people’s in Miami. All they got there is a beard with a cigar.”
Once in a while all the perfect ingredients come along to make a true masterpiece; a movie which can stand the test of time, and whose legacy and impact on pop culture alone rival that of any of its counterparts, both before and after. Producer Martin Bregman brought together Director Brian De Palma, rising star Al Pacino and then-screenwriter Oliver Stone to create such a cult classic, reigning in a fairly fresh cast of upcoming talent, and pushing it to the limit both in terms of excess violence and strong language; the end result is both a deep and satisfyingly visceral ride through the eyes of a power-hungry addict – made frighteningly admirable, and even sympathetic, through a tour-de-force performance from Pacino. One of the most memorable, most quoted films of all time, if you somehow have not yet come across this classic, then say hello to my little friend!
On Region Free UK Blu-ray this release bests the US equivalent in that it comes complete with a cigar-box-shaped case that houses the same Steelbook Blu-ray (with identical, slightly disappointing video, excellent audio and superb extras) as well as a selection of related film memorabilia, but falls down quite significantly when it comes to the lack of a copy of the original Howard Hughes Scarface production from the ‘30s. Still, those who already have this black and white classic on DVD should consider the UK box set the more fan-friendly release (unless, that is, you have $1000 lying around to splash out on the US Limited Edition Humidor set).
Whichever release you finally choose, just make sure you pick one of them – this great movie deserves a place in everybody’s collection.
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