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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • English Stereo
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • Three commentary tracks: director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan; producers Laura Bickford, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, and consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien; composer Cliff Martinez (with two music cues not included in the film)
  • 25 deleted scenes featuring commentary from director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan
  • Film processing demonstration: Achieving the look of the Mexico sequences
  • Editing demonstration with commentary from editor Stephen Mirrione
  • Dialogue editing demonstration
  • Additional footage featuring multiple angles from the scenes of the El Paso Intelligence Center, and the cocktail party where U.S. Senators, major politicians, lobbyists, and others state their views on the drug war
  • Theatrical and television trailers
  • U.S. Customs trading cards of the K-9 squad used in the detection of narcotics and illegal substances

Traffic


Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Steven Soderbergh
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Jacob Vargas, Tomas Milian, Michael Douglas, Luiz Guzman, Don Cheadle, Miguel Ferrer, Topher Grace, Erika Christensen, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Albert Finney, D.W. Moffett, James Brolin, Steven Bauer, Amy Irving, Dennis Quaid, Peter Riegert, Benjamin Bratt, Salma Hayek
2000 | 147 Minutes | Licensor: USA Films

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #151
USA Films

Release Date: May 28, 2002
Review Date: April 5, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

Traffic examines the effect of drugs as politics, business, and lifestyle. Acting as his own director of photography, Steven Soderbergh employs an innovative, color-coded cinematic treatment to distinguish the interwoven stories of a newly appointed drug czar and his family, a West Coast kingpin's wife, a key informant, and cops on both sides of the U.S./Mexican border. Rarely has a film so energetic and suspenseful presented a more complex and nuanced view of an issue of such international importance. Instantly recognized as a classic, Traffic appeared on more than 200 critics' ten-best lists, and earned 5 Academy Award® nominations.

Forum members rate this film 7.2/10

 

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PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents Steven Soderberghís Traffic in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on the first dual-layer disc of this two-disc set. The image is a slight improvement over the USA Films release, though isnít drastically different.

The film has a very stylistic look to it, scenes in the film using different colours to distinguish the multiple storylines occurring. Mexico sequences have a very dirty, gritty, brownish-yellow look to them, scenes involving Michael Douglasí character and his family have a bluish hue to them, and then sequences centering around a drug smuggler played by Steven Bauer (along with his family and the DEA agents after him) present a brighter, more natural looking hue, though maybe with the brightness boosted a tad.

The USA Films DVD handled this all rather well and the Criterion does the same. Edge-enhancement is noticeable on occasion but colours look clean and accurate (to the look of the film) and the print is in good shape, showing about the same amount of damage as the USA Films DVD, the damage being minimal. Contrast is pretty strong, though has been intentionally pumped at times for the California sequences. Grain can also be somewhat heavy because of the stylistic choices.

The only real difference between the USA Films release and the Criterion DVD is that the English subtitles for the Spanish language sequences are burned into the film (sampled in the first screen cap) at the behest of Soderbergh. I actually prefer the look of these subtitles to the bulky digital subtitles present in the USA Films release.

It looks good and captures the visuals of the film perfectly. But itís not too big of an improvement over the previous movie-only edition so for those that own the previous DVD and are only concerned about the transfer, the Criterion edition isnít worth upgrading to just for the transfer alone.

7/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

Criterion presents 2 sound tracks both in English with Spanish sequences. One is a 2.0 track (mixed specifically for home video) and DD 5.1 surround track. For this review I only listened to the 5.1 track.

The reason for this is so the 5.1 track wouldnít have to be downgraded in any way so it could be played on systems that canít handle 5.1 surround. Viewers can use this track and not miss any of the sound that Soderbergh intended.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is easily the better of the two, crisper and sharper, with far better dynamic range, but at the base theyíre similar. The film was mixed almost for mono as everything is pretty much focused to the front center speaker, including all dialogue and most of the sound effects (Soderbergh gets into this on his commentary track.) Music is about the only thing that spreads to all of the speakers. The 5.1 track presents far better splits and movement through the speakers. The lower channel works the sub woofer subtly when needed.

Sound quality is excellent on both tracks, though again sharper on the 5.1 track.

Both are good but if you have the capability I would go with the 5.1 track. It doesnít present a huge upgrade over the USA Films release, though.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

About a year after the release of the original USA Films DVD, this Criterion edition was released, loaded with two discs of special features, the only real reason to possibly upgrade from the previous DVD.

On the first disc you get 3 audio commentaries. The first one is by director Steven Soderbergh and writer Stephen Gaghan. I'm guessing this one wasn't recorded exclusively for Criterion. Soderbergh talks about inspirations and a lot about his filming technique and the process of achieving the look of the film, and he also shares some horror stories. Gaghan talks about writing the script and how it was a project he wanted to do for a long time, and how it affected him. Itís a good track and both keep it going, and I like how Soderbergh at times criticizes his own film on occasion, pointing out sequences heís not too pleased with.

The second commentary features the producers Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz and Laura Bickford as well as consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien. The producers sort of glaze over things, never really delving into anything except on a superficial level. Thankfully the consultants offer more, talking about the war on drugs, and what is real and what is questionable about the film, sort of similar to the consultants found on the commentary for Criterionís Armageddon DVD. Itís a good track, though actually wish the producers were left out of and that the consultants had the track to themselves.

The third track is a neat one. This combo audio commentary/music score track features Cliff Martinez. Iím not usually big on score-only tracks, but this one is unique. In essence it is a score-only track but Martinez will pop up talking about the score, and even talking about his career in general. A couple of cues not used in the film show up as well. I usually donít recommend score-only tracks unless someone really loves the score to a film, but the setup for this one is unique and Martinezís comments make it well worthwhile.

The remaining supplements are found on the second dual-layer disc, all of which, in essence, presents something like a ďfilm school on a discĒ covering just about everything on making this film and making films in general, getting down to some of the nitty-gritty.

There are 24 deleted scenes with a gag scene also included, lasting about 26 minutes. These are interesting on their own, and there are a few I question about being removed, but for the most part their absence doesn't hurt the film. And the gag scene, lasting about 30 seconds, is definitely quite funny, involving Catherine Zeta-Jones and a star-struck border guard.

There are many featurettes and multiple angle segments that show you the process of not only editing and putting together this film, but any film in general, found under a section called Demonstrations. There are 3 sections, one for processing the Mexico sequences, one for film editing and one for dialogue editing, each with their own set of instructions and text notes.

Film Processing shows how the film for the Mexico sequences was exposed and altered over and over again until they got the desired effect, going through 5 steps. A commentary is also provided to explain to you what was done. While mostly a lot of jargon, it's definitely fascinating and informative just how much work went into making the film look so dirty.

Editing shows how 4 scenes were edited, including Overdose, Caroline is Caught, Javier Meets the DEA, and Monte Visits the Ayalas. This is presented as a multiple angle and is accompanied by a commentary. Each scene has multiple chapters, meaning you get to see different edits, or build ups to a final edit. The first angle shows the scene as a timeline, so you can see what layer is being jumped to. The second angle shows the scene without the interface. This is yet another unique "crash course" in movie making. Instructions are also included.

Dialogue editing concentrates, obviously, on editing the dialogue for the film, and I have to admit I never realized how intense a process it really was. With a commentary you are shown how background noise (such as radio music or rustling clothes) are removed to just leave the dialogue. It's amazing how seamless it is. And Larry Blake even admits to you how he had to redub a scene, without Soderbergh even knowing (Soderbergh being a director that hates redubbing).

There's also another section containing more additional scenes. These are presented in multiple angles and in their raw form. Basically each angle is a different camera catching the sequence, the most interesting of these being the El Paso center and the cocktail party that Douglasí character attneds. The El Paso center isn't presented with a multiple angle, but comes with a commentary and is actually footage of one of the storage warehouses for drugs seized at the border (and there is a lot there). The other sequences are also worth a look and thanks to the multiple angles itís rather fun to play with. If you flip angles on the fly as you watch, you can actually edit your own sequence together. The sequence plays out for 30-minutes, but if you go through each angle individually it plays out for 90-minutes.

The oddest feature on here would have to be the entire collection of trading cards representing the K-9 Drug Enforcement Trading Cards. There are about 99 cards here which you navigate through using the arrows on your remote. Stats are found on each card, including their biggest busts. Itís an amusing feature. At one point, if you click on the up arrow, there is an Easter Egg.

The disc then concludes with theatrical trailers and TV spots. An insert is also included with a short essay by film critic Manohla Dargis.

This is a rather nice release, and the supplements found on here are some of the most cohesive features on the process of making film. I found this all rather fascinating but would have liked a little more on the actual war on drugs, which only gets a little examination in this release. Still, in terms of a release focusing on the art of filmmaking, this is a solid set.

9/10

CLOSING

In terms of its transfer, the Criterion edition doesnít mark a huge improvement over the USA Films release but the supplements make it worth the upgrade, especially if youíre interested in the process of filmmaking and what went into achieving this film thanks to its rather innovative special features.

A note on the initial release in Canada: The DVD was actually distributed by USA Films in the United States while Alliance-Atlantis distributed the DVD in Canada. Their initial release was missing the spine number on the packaging. Due to complaints future printings were released with the spine number. The Alliance branding is still found all over the package, though, including the front cover and on the spine. After USA Films was swallowed up by Universal Criterion/Image Entertainment have taken over distribution of the DVD in the US. I believe Alliance still prints the DVD in Canada.


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