Thursday, 22 September 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #810: The Return of Scarface

Universal Pictures has announced that they're going to do a remake the 1983 gangster movie Scarface, which was directed by Brian De Palma and starred Al Pacino as Miami drug kingpin Tony Montana.

Now before you start growling about Hollywood pissing all over the classics of the 1980s you have to remember that the Al Pacino/Brian De Palma
Scarface is in fact a remake of the 1932 movie Scarface which was directed by Howard Hawkes and starred Paul Muni as Chicago liquor boss Tony Camonte.So we're actually talking about a remake of a remake. Now that doesn't reach the Nikita* levels of cognitive dissonance, but it's getting there.

I think this calls for an attack of the PROS & CONS!!


PROS: 1. FAMILIARITY: While only a modest seller in theaters the movie had a big time afterlife on home video and on television where the editing for language and violence made it an unintentional comedy. Universal needs some familiarity.

2. POTENTIAL FREE PROMOTION: Rappers love the 1983 movie preferring to ignore its "crime doesn't pay" message. So as long as the remake contains enough macho posturing and conspicuous consumption they will praise it to heaven and back again.

3. COST: A contemporary crime story with a sensible producer/directing team at the helm, is going to be inherently cheaper than a big science-fiction or fantasy epic. Blanks, squibs, and crashing cars are a hell of a lot cheaper to do than dinosaurs, superheroes, or alien invasions. Universal needs a movie that can be done for less than $100 million if only to learn that it's still possible these days.

CONS: 1. MORAL PANIC, OR THE LACK THEREOF: The original Scarface (1932) was made at the right moment, the tail end of Prohibition and right when the Depression was turning into a Great Depression. People were pissed off at the lawlessness caused by the banning of alcohol, and scared at the rise of Italian immigrant gangs on their city streets. The 1983 Scarface was inspired by the wild west atmosphere of the Miami streets as it went from sleepy beach resort/retirement community, to cocaine capitol of North America, and by the fear of new violent gangs caused by the chaotic Mariel Boatlift of 1980.

For those who can't remember the 80s, Fidel Castro, then living communist dictator of Cuba agreed to let anyone who wanted to leave to get out. About 125,000 Cubans fled to the closest piece of the USA they could get to: America's Wang, otherwise called Florida.

Castro decided that all the law abiding, hard working, freedom yearning refugees fleeing his country needed a little spice. So he peppered them with approximately 10,000 undesirables, mostly from Cuba's delightful prisons and mental hospitals. While the US government tried to round up as many undesirables as they could, enough made it through to become soldiers in the then exploding South Florida cocaine wars. Those wars scarred Miami, and especially the image of its Cuban community, and inspired the moral panic behind the second

Right now America is in the middle of a Great Recession, but there hasn't been explosion of lawlessness that we've seen in during Prohibition and the Cocaine Wars. In fact, crime rates in most areas of North America are either staying steady, or declining. Society in general isn't freaked out about crime, and they aren't especially freaked out about legal immigrants, and that brings us to another Con in this little soup...

2. POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: Both Scarfaces were made at times when you could point a finger at an immigrant community and scream "J'accuse!" for the latest crime wave. And even then, both films had to make a point to show that not all of the immigrant communities they were pointing at were inherently criminal, just the criminals, because they didn't want to be racist or perceived as racist. That's not enough now, and I think the inevitable protests will keep this puppy in turnaround unless Tony Camonte/Montana is whiter than Conan O'Brien after 6 months in a coal mine. But even the closest contender, the Russian Mob is no longer considered the mega-villain they were in the 1990s and early 2000s, having already been done to death. Even Russian gangsters go "That's a bit of a cliche" when they see their fictional counterparts on the screen.

3. REPETITION: Whoever does the remake will be tempted strongly to repeated a lot of the 1983 version, because it is just so quotable and over the top. If audiences smell a rehash, they will stay away in droves and watch Al Pacino on their flat-screens at home.

4. COST: I was just kidding when I included "cost" as a pro. There's no way anyone is going to do what will be one of Universal's tent-pole releases for less than $100 million.

That's what I think. Let me know what you think in the comments.


* The TV series
Nikita is, in fact, the American TV remake of a Canadian TV series, which was itself a series remake of an American action movie, that was a remake of a French action film called La Femme Nikita.

Say that 3 times in front of a mirror fast enough and Bridget Fonda will appear behind you. Which sort of explains where she's been for the past ten years.


  1. Okay,

    But what about Jackson effing up The Hobbit? That's what nerds care about.

    He's pulled a Jackson again and this time instead of ruining one scene he's going to monkey up a whole movie.

  2. Scarface, soon they will get around to remaking ZARDOZ.