Judge Roy Hrab traffiks addictive substances. Well, chocolate is addictive, isn't it?
Our review of Traffik, published October 24th, 2001, is also available.
"My name is Jack Lithgow and my daughter is a heroine addict."
By now, most audiences know that Steven Soderbergh's Traffic was based on the British six-part Masterpiece Theatre miniseries Traffik. Acorn Media released Traffik on DVD back in 2001 and is now releasing a "20th Anniversary Edition." The previous edition was reviewed by Judge Barrie Maxwell (now retired). In his review, Judge Maxwell ably summed up the series as well as the many reasons why the original is superior to Traffic. He was right back then and remains correct to this day, so I won't go over much background material here.
Traffik follows three separate, but connected, storylines cutting between England, Germany, and Pakistan. The principle figures are Jack (Bill Paterson, Sunshine), a minister in the British government who discovers that his daughter, Caroline (Julia Ormond, First Knight), is a heroine addict; Helen (Lindsay Duncan, Under The Tuscan Sun), a woman whose husband is a drug lord; and Fazal (Jamal Shah), a Pakistani, who works in the drug trade because it is the only way to make enough money to feed his family.
All the storylines are compelling, complete, and fully integrated, unlike the sometimes confusing and superficial Hollywood version. Traffik is a mostly bleak tale about the international drug trade and addiction. However, the series goes far beyond those concrete subjects, delving deep into the dynamics of relationships between people. One theme is that everyone is corruptible given the right set of circumstances and surrounding cast of people. Individuals can become cold-blooded when their lifestyle or image are on the line. Good people with good intentions can cause deep pain for those they love when they are careless, inattentive, or blind themselves to reality. Communication breaks down and relationships suffer in stressful situations. The result is an epic, often gut-wrenching tale that's so engrossing it's easy to watch the entire series in one sitting.
The performances are excellent across the board. The only weak point is the German section, where that the acting is definitely a notch below the other two settings.
No doubt the big question on the minds of owners of the previous DVD release of Traffik is whether the transfer has improved. Judge Maxwell noted that the image was "very grainy or hazy virtually throughout, with little discernible difference in quality between interior and exterior, or night- and daytime shots." I have never scene the original release, so I can't compare it with this version, but I can tell you that the image for this "20th Anniversary Edition" is disappointing. This is supposed to be a "remastered" edition, but the picture quality far from great. The colors are soft, the picture is hazy throughout, and grain remains (if only Criterion could have worked on this). The audio is unremarkable, and sometimes unclear, but it's adequate for the most part. Luckily, unlike the previous edition, there are English subtitles to fill in any gaps.
The extras are all on disc two. For the most part, they are the same as the original release: an interview with Writer Simon Moore and Producer Brian Eastman, notes about adapting Traffik into Traffic, and filmographies of some of the cast and crew. The new extras are a photo gallery and the extended United Kingdom broadcast version of the final episode of the series. The extended episode contains some extra scenes, including a new opening scene involving Jack in Pakistan. There's nothing particularly earth shattering though. The new scenes amount to about 12 minutes of additional running time.
Traffik: 20th Anniversary Edition is worth a look if you have never seen it. However, if you already own the previous release and are thinking about an upgrade, it really depends on how much you value the subtitles and extended episode.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
• Extended Version of Episode 6
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