Updated: Jan 11
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Al Pacino's larger-than-life portrait of Tony Montana, a former Cuban soldier, and prisoner who arrived in the U.S. during the Mariel boatlift and quickly became one of Miami's cocaine kingpins.
“SCARFACE: GOLD EDITION”
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital Copy; 1983; R for extreme violence, language throughout and nudity, Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, Vudu, YouTube (4K)
Best extra: 35th Anniversary Reunion
IT’S THURSDAY night in Manhattan and nearly 3,000 moviegoers have packed the historic Beacon Theater. There’s a buzz inside just before the first screening of the new 4K restoration of Brian De Palma’s ultra-violent “Scarface.” For its 35th anniversary, the Tribeca Film Festival assembled a cast reunion after the movie with De Palma and stars Al Pacino, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Steven Bauer.
As the closing credits finish, the crowd gives a standing ovation when moderator and writer Jesse Kornbluth, and De Palma, Pacino, Pfeiffer and Bauer enter stage right. Kornbluth fires the first question at Pacino, who played larger-than-life drug lord Tony Montana, former Cuban soldier and prisoner who arrived in the U.S. during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
“Why don’t we start at the beginning with the person who discovered the idea of this film?” Kornbluth says.
“That’s me,” Pacino returns.
The actor’s story starts in Los Angeles, unusual for the native New Yorker. But, on that day – most likely in 1979 or 1980 – Pacino and five buddies stumbled upon the Tiffany Theater on Sunset Blvd. On the marquee in bold letters is “S-C-A-R-F-A-C-E,” a revival of Howard Hawks’ 1932 crime masterpiece starring Paul Muni as Tony Camonte, the Italian immigrant who becomes a violent gangster inspired by the life of Al Capone. During the showing, every time Camonte kills a character, a big X flashes onto the screen.
(1 & 2) Tony Montana is questioned by U.S. authorities and eventually sent to Freedom Town a refugee camp under Interstate 95. (3) Tony with his best friend Manny Ribera (Steven Bauer) (4) Tony and Manny execute their first murder on U.S. soil, of Emilio Rebenga, a former aide to Fidel Castro. The killing was ordered by Miami crime boss Frank Lopez.
“I had heard about that film my entire life. I was stunned by the story and completely taken by Paul Muni’s performance. I thought I just wanna be him, I wanna be Paul Muni. I wanna act like that.” – Al Pacino, actor
Pacino called his good friend and go-to partner producer Martin Bregman. The two worked together on five films during their careers; two of their best “Serpico” (1974) and “Dog Day Afternoon” (1976), were made before “Scarface,” and Pacino earned Oscar nominations for both films. “I asked him if he had ever heard of ‘Scarface’?” Pacino recalls. “I think it’s a movie we should make. Can you find out more about it?”
Bregman first recruited Oliver Stone to write the script. Then he lined up director Sidney Lumet, who had helmed “Serpico” and “Dog Day Afternoon.” Lumet pushed the storyline to focus on a Cuban gangster and the 1980 boatlift as Castro announced that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. were free to go. Over 125,000 left the island on 1,700 boats in a few short months creating a crisis at sea. Thousands were prisoners and patients from mental health hospitals.
Overtime, Lumet left the project opening the door for De Palma. Pacino recalls how actor Steven Bauer became his Cuban brother playing Manny Ribera, Tony’s loyal lieutenant. Bauer was his stage name; he was born Esteban Ernesto Echevarria Samson in Havana and moved to Miami at age 4. Many of the old Cuban Miami community didn’t realize De Palma was creating violent mayhem on screen, which the director said mimicked the high body count of Miami’s cocaine war.
(1) Tony and Manny work at a corner sandwich shop across the street from one of Miami's top nightclubs. (2) Omar Suarez (F. Murray Abraham) the righthand man for Frank Lopez offers Tony and Manny a job to unload some marijuana, but Tony wants something bigger. (3) Tony and his crew head to a small Miami Beach motel for a cocaine deal with Hector the Toad from Columbia. (4 &5) Tony and Angel (Pepe Serna) are double-crossed by the Columbians, who use a chainsaw as their preferred weapon.
Several months before cameras began rolling, Pacino rented a house down the street from Bauer’s “little hovel” on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, California. They had breakfast together every morning and avoided looking at the script. They focused instead on their character's back-stories, which helped to heighten their on-screen chemistry. “We spent all that time talking about our lives in Cuba. What Pacino taught me imbued my performance,” says Bauer.
From the beginning “Scarface” was hated, De Palma says in “The Scarface Phenomenon” featurette. “It was hated by the industry. I remember screenings were people were walking out and cursing our names, up and down the aisles.” “Scarface” became notorious, holding the record for the most “F” bombs in a motion picture at that time in cinema history. There were 226, equaling 1.32 per minute. It received an X-rating three times for its level of violence that included a chainsaw threat against Montana and his partner, from the Rating Board before the decision was reversed.
The scene comes in Montana’s first major drug deal for Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia), a wealthy car dealer and drug lord. Montana has the money and the Columbia’s have the cocaine. The exchange is set up inside a small Miami Beach motel. Neither side wants to show the goods, so the Columbian’s introduce a chainsaw to up the ante. Stone added the scene into the script after reading about gruesome South Florida reports of criminals being chopped up and dumped. “I thought you had to show that these were a different kind of gangster,” De Palma says. “So, let’s show in the beginning what kind of violence you’re gonna be dealing with.”
Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays cocaine addict Elvira Hancock, became intentionally thinner and “more emaciated” as her character’s life spirals out of control. Eventually, Elvira leaves Lopez and marries Tony, a disastrous move. Projected to finish in four months, production kept dragging; six months later, it over limit and still going. Pacino says it didn’t finish for eight months. “I was starving by the end. The finale [kept being pushed up to] next week and then it was the next week. I had members of the crew bringing me bagels because they were worried about me. I was living on tomato soup and Marlboros,” Pfeiffer says.
(1) Miami crime boss Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) and his lover Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfeiffer). (2) Tony quickly moves up within Lopez's organization and he's out on the town with Suarez and Lopez. (3) Tony visits his mother and young sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). (4) Tony leaves Lopez and sets up his own business.
Over the years, “Scarface” has become a cult phenomenon referenced in a number of movies, TV shows, video games and music. Kornbluth prods Pacino to say Tony Montana’s most famous line. “Say hello to my little friend.” The crowd cheers. Pacino credit Oliver Stone for coining the phrase in his script. “It’s caught on in such a way, and we all have experienced it. This wasn’t the way it started, because when ‘Scarface’ first came out, it was extremely controversial. You can imagine this kind of movie…it’s a part of our culture in a strange way,” Pacino says.
Universal Studios produced a new 4K master from the original camera negative (2.35:1 aspect ratio) we assume, or a first-generation print. Still, whatever the source, it’s never looked this good. Even so, it’s still not perfect. The HDR10 and HDR10+ contrast toning seems heavy at times causing the deepest shadows to be crushed and blocked up. Plus, the color palette has been slightly pushed to the red side giving certain actors bad sunburns rather than a natural Latin look, which was originally applied with makeup. Overall, the toning is darker on the 4K presentation compared to the HD version.
Added clarity is evident from start to finish, especially on the 4K, and looks much better on the Blu-ray, far surpassing previous editions that were plagued with digital noise reduction and edge enhancement that killed any hint of a cinematic experience.
The biggest improvement is the addition of natural film grain which had been digitally softened on previous discs. The grain dances from light to heavy depending on lighting conditions. Daylight scenes exhibit fine grain, while in dark interiors and night scenes the grain is much larger. De Palma and his cinematographer John A. Alonzo (“Chinatown”) more likely used faster film stock, which produced larger grain. Plus, the chemical process time used to expose dark scenes may have been increased.
(1) Tony finds his sister Gina at the Babylon Club with the wrong guy who had bad intension for her in the Men's Restroom. (2) After Lopez tried to kill Tony with two hitmen at the Babylon Club, Tony shows up at Lopez's dealership, where Miami Chief of Narcotics Mel Bernstein (Harris Yulin) is meeting with Lopez. (3) The drug money is rolling into Tony's business. (4 & 5) Tony and Elvira get married and it doesn't go well. She continues her addiction to cocaine.
The majority of the production was filmed in L.A. to avoid possible protests from the Cuban-American community in Miami, while the chainsaw scene was filmed on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, and Frank Lopez’s mansion in Key Biscayne, Florida. The exterior of Tony’s mansion was filmed in Santa Barbara, and Freedom Town under Interstates 110 and 10 in L.A.
The audio also received an upgrade with an eight-channel DTS:X soundtrack for height speakers. It’s nicely balanced between gun effects, electronic score from Italian composer Giorgio Moroder (“Top Gun,” “Flashdance” and “Midnight Express”) and with the front and centered dialogue.
For fans of "Scarface," the Gold Edition will help fill your growing 4K library.
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1) Tony confronts Manny after he apparently slept with his sister Gina. (2) Tony heads to NYC to assist in the possible assassination of a journalist who's scheduled to speak to the U.N. and may expose Bolivian drug lord Alejandro Sosa. (3) Tony's addiction to cocaine continues to consume him.
(1) Sosa sends an army of assassins to kill Tony at his mansion, and during the gun battle, Gina is killed. (2 & 3) Tony yells, “Say hello to my little friend,” as he uses the under-mounted M203 grenade launcher on the AR-15 and explodes the front door to his office. (4) The first wave of Sosa's army is killed. (5) Sosa's men return fire.