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review added: 5/21/01
updated: 5/21/02




Traffic

reviews by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Traffic (Criterion) Traffic
2000 (2002) - USA Films (Criterion)

Film Rating: A-

Disc Rating (Video/Audio/Extras): A+/A+/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
147 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, double Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, dual-layered (layer switch at 1:18:33, in chapter 38), audio commentary (with director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gagan, audio commentary (with producers Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz and Laura Bickford and consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien), audio commentary with composer Cliff Martinez (featuring two music cues not included in the final cut), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (69 chapters), languages: English and Spanish (DD 5.1 and 2.0), subtitles: English

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
25 deleted scenes (with optional audio commentary from director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gagan), Film Processing Demonstration: Achieving the Look of the Mexico Sequences featurette, Editing Demonstration featurette with commentary from editor Stephen Mirrione, Dialogue Editing Demonstration featurette with commentary by sound editor Larry Blake, 30 minutes of additional footage (featuring multiple angles), U.S. theatrical trailer, U.S. teaser trailer, 5 TV spots, U.S. Customs K9 Squad Trading Cards, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, program access


Traffic Traffic
2000 (2001) - USA Films

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/D

Specs and Features

147 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:30:09, in chapter 43), Inside Traffic "making-of" featurette, photo gallery, U.S. teaser trailer, U.S. theatrical trailer, German theatrical trailer, 5 TV spots, film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (68 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

The winner of four Academy Awards, Traffic is composed of three intersecting and breath-taking stories about the effects of drugs on North America. Michael Douglas plays a judge who's just been appointed the Justice Department's new drug czar, and whose daughter has become horribly hooked on dope. His world spins into disarray around him, as he tries to be the powerful force the country needs and learns how truly helpless one can be against an enemy with so much power over you and your family. Meanwhile, on what would seem like the other side of the world, Benicio Del Toro plays a Mexican cop who's trying to fight the good fight against drug lords alone, but finds that politics can be the real enemy. Back in America, Don Cheadle is a well-meaning cop who's uncovering the roots of the American drug trade, which go from dusty Mexico to the pristine kitchen of a pregnant housewife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whose husband used to be the local kingpin. Now that he's in jail, her way of life is threatened... and she's not having it. But to get her way, she'll have to go through Cheadle... and he's not having that either.

Although Benicio got the acting award for Traffic, the real star of the film (in my mind) is Cheadle. He simply rocks here. He's played a few weak characters in the past, even if they were memorable and well acted, but nothing so far has reminded me of his breakout role of Mouse from Devil in a Blue Dress. His performance here is the closest to that role. He gets to roar, laugh and cry. It's all very powerful. But don't get me wrong, Benicio is great as well. He just tends to always be the saving grace of the films he's in and, therefore, is easily taken for granted. The superstar on the opposite side of the camera is director Steven Soderbergh, who plays maestro for the incredibly well-orchestrated production. He guides the story, as cinematographer and chief storyteller, to the point that you'll forget you're watching three individual stories. Soderbergh definitely knows how to get the performances he needs. He's a master of his craft and no one does it better.

When Steven Soderbergh's tour de force on the war on drugs first came to DVD, I thought it looked great. But the original disc was disappointing. The transfer was first rate, with all the important colors perfectly represented. There was no artifacting, the grain was as it's supposed to be, and the blacks were solid. It was a definite A transfer. The audio was presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and a remastered stereo track, both of which sounded great. The sonic interplay you experienced in the theaters was definitely there, even in the stereo track. It wasn't overly dynamic, but when it needs to boom... it did.

Where the disc was disappointing was the extras. There were hardly any to speak of. You got 3 trailers, 5 TV spots and a fluffy "making of" featurette, which featured more clips from the film than behind-the-scenes material. And that's it. I don't mean to sound spoiled, but where' was the commentary? Where was the stuff usually found on Soderbergh DVDs, like scene breakdowns or technical explanations? I was a bit upset when I discovered that there was nothing but fluff on this disc. I know that Traffic's a long film, but if any film needed to be a 2-disc set, this was the one. The video and audio presentation was definitely good enough to stand on its own, but I was disappointed and I would imagine that a great many of you were as well.

Thankfully, Criterion has finally given us the special edition of Traffic that I wanted in the first place. And I have to say, it's fan-frickin'-tastic. The video presentation is just as good as the original version. You'd think it'd be significantly better, but held side by side, you'd need an incredibly professional eye to see much difference. I'm going to give the new edition a slight edge based on the newness of the transfer, but I don't really think there's much difference. The sound, as well, isn't very much improved. Both discs feature dynamic Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and understated, yet playful, stereo tracks. The film sounds good on DVD any way you go with it.

But where Criterion improved the presentation is in the extras. Maaaaaaaan. The film now features three commentary tracks on disc. My favorite of the three is the one with Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gagan (who walked away with an Oscar for his script). The two men discuss the film, how it was written, what was improvised, what came from the original BBC miniseries and so on. I really enjoy Soderbergh commentaries, and while this one is nowhere as fun as the one he did on The Limey, it's still a great track. There's also a track with the producers and consultants, and another with the composer (which features a couple of music cues that were cut from the film). Both offer incredible amounts of information, and because of the length of the film, will take half a day just to listen to.

Disc Two (because this IS a two-disc set after all), has all the technical extras I was looking for. Let's start with the twenty-five deleted scenes (yes, 25). Mostly, they flesh out Catherine Zeta-Jones' character. But there's some great extended scenes in here as well. I can't say any of these scenes needed to be back in the film, but they do stand on their own enough that they're worth seeing. Especially the last one - check it out. These scenes feature optional commentary from Soderbergh and Gagan and they sound slightly more laid back than they did on the film track (maybe because talking about what died is a looser experience). Next, we get some really cool looks at the filmmaking process. With the Film Processing Demonstration: Achieving the Look of the Mexico Sequences we see how much time and effort went into creating the yellowed and saturated look of the Mexico sequences. It's pretty mind numbing what they went through to get the shots to look the way they did, but I guess a director's vision is a director's vision. In the Editing Demonstration we see (through an Avid workstation file) how a scene grew from original cut to a director's vision of pacing. It's pretty wild information and the commentary from editor Stephen Mirrione is very easy to understand as he walks you through a complicated process. Finally, the Dialogue Editing Demonstration shows how ADR (additional dialogue recording) works, and the problems these masters have to fix during production. Sound editor Larry Blake walks us through this demonstration and he also makes the process very enjoyable. If 25 deleted scenes aren't enough for you, then check out the 30 minutes of additional footage. By using multiple angles, we can look at all of the camera rolls for two important scenes from the film, where one take pretty much had to be used (so multiple camera set-ups were a must). Just toggle around and enjoy. After that we get the U.S. theatrical trailer, U.S. teaser trailer and 5 TV spots that appeared on the original disc. And, coolest of all the extras, the trading cards Soderbergh and Gagan talk about in their commentary in the deleted scenes are here for your entertainment! Yes, you can virtually collect all of the U.S. Customs K9 Squad Trading Cards. Sadly, there will be no trading with your friends.

Traffic is definitely a flick that you need to own on DVD. Thankfully, that recommendation sounds a lot better now that the quality extras filled Criterion edition is out. If you just want the film and already own the original version, I don't think you need an upgrade. But if you enjoyed the film and want to see the effort put into making it, this edition is definitely the one for you. Thankfully, DVD is my drug of choice... and Criterion is the best pusher in town.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com


Traffic (Criterion)


Traffic (original - movie-only)


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