Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Traffic (Blu-ray + DVD Combo)

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Kevin EK, Apr 27, 2010.

  1. Kevin EK

    Kevin EK Producer

    May 9, 2003
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    Studio: Universal (Initially released by USA Films to theaters and DVD)
    Year: 2000
    Length:  2 hrs 28 mins
    Genre: Drama
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
    BD Resolution: 1080p
    BD Video Codec: VC-1 (@ an average 30 mbps)
    Color/B&W: Color
    DVD side of the disc has a 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer (likely the same one as on the prior USA DVD)
    English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 2.3 mbps)
    English DTS-HD 2.0
    French DTS 2.0
    DVD side of the disc has English & French Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes and an English 2.0 mix
    Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish 
    Film Rating: R (Pervasive Drug Content, Language, Violence, Sexuality)
    Release Date: April 27, 2010
    Starring: A very LARGE cast including Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, Michael Douglas, Luis Guzmana, Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones
    Based on the 1989 miniseries “Traffik”
    Screenplay by: Stephen Gaghan
    Directed and Filmed by: Steven Soderbergh
    Film Rating:    3/5  
    Traffic is a big, broad tapestry of a movie, expertly organized by Stephen Soderbergh into three color-coordinated sections that divide the plot between three locations. The story, loosely based on the 1989 miniseries “Traffik”, transposes a story of drug use and interdiction to the US/Mexico border, with characters approaching the problem from a variety of vantage points. The strongest section of the story is set in Mexico, and deals with the internal and external problems faced by Benicio del Toro as a local cop trying to do the right thing. For this section, Soderbergh deliberately uses an extremely grainy and unfiltered look, which gives everything a warm amber tone, and makes the location appear quite old and distressed. The second section, and the weakest one in the group, follows an incoming U.S. Drug Czar played by Michael Douglas, whose efforts to combat this problem on a national level are belied by his own daughter’s descent into addiction. For this section, Soderbergh uses an icy, steely blue look that immediately sets the section in relief from the warmer-toned Mexican section.      The final section is set in Southern California and follows the work of a DEA unit staffed by Don Cheadle and Luis Guzman as they witness the awakening of a drug distibutor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) into her husband’s true line of work. This section is almost as good as the Mexican section, mostly due to the strength of the performances here, particularly by Cheadle, Dennis Quaid, Miguel Ferrer and a cleverly-cast Steven Bauer as the drug-dealing husband. For this section, Soderbergh uses a vivid color scheme that brings in a rainbow of colors to contrast with the warm and cool sections of the movie.   This all probably sounds technical, and it is, but it’s important to understand that by taking this step, Soderbergh immediately distinguishes each piece of the narrative, even when characters cross between the various areas of the movie, and appear in another character’s “world” for a scene or two.    It’s a novel idea, and it makes what would have been an almost incomprehensible number of characters and situations easily digestible, even if the content is a little hard to take at times. (It is no accident that Soderbergh was awarded a Best Director Academy Award for his work here.)
    That said, the film isn’t a perfect piece of work. Seen 10 years after the fact, some sequences push suspension of disbelief a bit past the point. The storyline of Michael Douglas’ daughter comes across as extreme to the point of feeling like an Afterschool Special about the dangers of drug use. The storyline of Catherine Zeta-Jones learning about her actual role and potential abilities comes across as a bit forced. On the other hand, Benicio del Toro’s story still resonates, if only for the reason that his character isn’t presented as a hero cop without faults – instead, he’s presented as someone who’s willing to go along with the system until he sees an opportunity that he decides to take. And Don Cheadle’s story is a great piece by itself, essentially showing how a DEA agent can try to combat what looks like a hopeless problem.
     Traffic has previously been released on standard definition DVD and HD-DVD, including an initial DVD from USA films and a more substantial one from the Criterion Collection. Universal released an HD-DVD of the title three years back, but faced some criticism about the picture transfer on that disc, in that there were discussions that it may have been an upconversion of a standard definition transfer. For this Blu-ray, I can attest that the transfer here is a 1080p high definition VC-1 transfer, not an upconversion. Further, the sound mix has been re-encoded to a DTS-HD Master Audio mix, although I found this mix to be a lot quieter overall than I expected, with very little use of the surround channels. Supplements on the Blu-ray are limited to 24 deleted scenes presented in standard definition and a 19 minute Showtime EPK piece on the film presented in standard definition. On the standard-definition side of the disc, there is an anamorphic transfer of the picture and standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes of the sound, along with the same bonus features.
    VIDEO QUALITY   3 ½ /5
    Traffic is presented in a 1080p VC-1 1.85:1 transfer that heightens the differences between the three sections of the film, including a healthy amount of grain and a lot of detail past what I have seen on SD transfers of this film.   The Mexican section of the film actually looks grainier than any other iteration of the film I have seen, while the Southern California section shows off some interesting textures I hadn’t noticed before. I’ll give two specific examples to back this up. In one scene later in the film, Don Cheadle wears a grey suit with fine patterning on it.   On the SD side of the disc, and on the Criterion DVD, the suit jacket has a low level of detail. The Blu-ray transfer reveals a much finer level of texture and threadwork than previously visible. In another scene soon afterward, Miguel Ferrer is seen wearing a slick bathrobe with an intricate pattern. The Blu-ray transfer conveys this pattern in much finer detail than the SD transfers we have previously seen. (It’s the same level of detail I noticed last year on a robe on Sean Connery on the Goldfinger Blu-ray.)   I bring up these examples to be clear that this transfer is absolutely not an upconversion. It is a bona-fide HD transfer, and to my mind, it presents the film as well as I have ever seen it.   For comparison purposes, viewers, can flip the disc over to the SD side to see the anamorphic transfer previousy available.   The SD transfer isn’t bad at all, but it’s an obvious jump when you flip back to the Blu-ray transfer.  I should note that I am watching the film on a 40” Sony XBR2 HDTV. If anyone is watching the film on a larger monitor and is having issues, please post them on this thread.
    Traffic is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, along with an English DTS-HD 2.0 mix and a standard DTS 5.1 mix in French.   (The SD side of the disc includes the previously-available Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English and French, along with an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. I have to admit not being completely impressed by this mix. It’s a fairly quiet one, with 95% of the mix living in the front channels.   I could not hear much from the surround channels, other than a few brief passages of Cliff Martinez’ score and the closing valediction of Brian Eno’s “An Ascent”. There is a little usage of the subwoofer, but not much. That said, this appears to be Soderbergh’s intended mix for the film, since it is pretty much the same one I have heard in the earlier DVD release and on the Criterion DVD. (I cued up the Criterion Edition to the same scenes to confirm this.)   Given that, I’m rating the mix as I am. But I must admit to wishing there was a bit more here.
    SPECIAL FEATURES      1 ½ /5
    The Blu-Ray presentation of Traffic comes with the usual BD-Live connectivity and My Scenes functionality. Both sides of the disc also include 24 deleted scenes and a Showtime EPK piece on the movie in standard definition..
    Deleted Scenes –  (26:04 Total, 480p, Anamorphic) 24 deleted scenes are presented here in standard definition, albeit anamorphically encoded. There’s a bit more here and there to flesh some areas of the story out, but nothing that really hurts the film by its absence. These are the same scenes as presented on the Criterion DVD, but without a brief gag shot of Catherine Zeta-Jones. The scenes are presented the same fashion on both sides of the disc, with a “Play All” function or individual scene access at the viewer’s discretion.
    Inside Traffic– (18:53, 480p, Full Frame) This brief Showtime EPK piece effectively acts as a trailer for the film, buttressed with interviews with much of the cast and Soderbergh, and some on-set video. This featurette is the same on both sides of the disc, and is the same one included with the initial DVD release of this title.
    Unfortunately, the plentiful extras available on the 2-disc Criterion Edition are not included here. For this reason, I recommend hanging on to that copy of the film for the extras alone, and picking up this one for the picture quality.
    BD-Live - The more general BD-Live screen is accessible via the menu, which makes various online materials available, including tickers, trailers and special events. Part of this functionality includes the downloading of various trailers when you first fire up the disc in your player.   On my last viewing of the disc, I was presented with a DVD trailer for It’s Complicated, along with a trailer for Green Zone
    My Scenes - The usual bookmarking feature is included here.
    The usual promotional ticker is present on the main menu, but can be toggled off at your discretion. The film is subtitled in English, French and Spanish. The usual pop-up menu is present.   There is a thorough and identical chapter list for the movie (68 chapters!) on both sides of the disc.
    IN THE END...
    Traffic is a worthy film that feels like more than the sum of its parts, which vary in their levels of effectiveness.  Primarily watchable for the work of Benicio del Toro and Don Cheadle, as well as for the expert directorial work by Steven Soderbergh, the Blu-ray disc offers a great way to see this movie in all of its 3-toned glory. Fans of Steven Soderbergh will absolutely want to grab this, while fans of the various members of the large cast will likely want to rent this first. Either way, it’s absolutely worth the time to see.
    Kevin Koster
    April 27, 2010.

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