Traffik (Umbrella) (1989)

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Released 20-Feb-2006

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Trailer-Meantime, Year Of The Gun, Shallow Grave
Trailer-The Great Bookie Robbery
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 316:03
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (28:12)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Alastair Ried
Studio
Distributor
Channel 4
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Bill Paterson
Lindsay Duncan
Julia Ormond
Jamal Shah
Fritz Müller-Scherz
Vincenzo Benestante
Case Amaray-Transparent-S/C-Dual
RPI $29.95 Music Tim Souster


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Having lost interest in television in the mid-1980s the TV series Traffik passed me by. I don't even recall it being screened here, and was not aware of its existence until Traffic, the Americanised movie version, was released. While the movie version claimed only to be "inspired" by the TV series, two of the three intertwining stories are very similar. The story taking place in Pakistan is different from the Mexican story in the American remake, and more convincing.

    As the series begins a drug sting in Hamburg nets trafficker Ledesert. Ledesert decides to squeal in order to save his own skin. He implicates seemingly respectable businessman Kurt Rosshalde (Knut Hinz) as the ringleader of the drug smuggling operation. Kurt's British wife Helen (Lindsay Duncan) does what she can to help her husband, though her real motive seems to be to maintain her luxury lifestyle. Meanwhile British minister Jack Lithgow (Bill Paterson) has been sent to Pakistan on a fact-finding mission to determine whether a financial aid package encouraging farmers not to grow opium is working. There he finds that much of the money ends up in the hands of local officials, while major heroin dealer Tariq Butt (Talat Hussain) goes about his trade with little hindrance from local law enforcement. Back in Britain Lithgow discovers that his daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) is an addict herself.

    Pakistani opium farmer Fazal (Jamal Shah) has his crop burned by the army and he and his family are forced to the city to find work. Fazal manages to get a job with Tariq Butt and finds himself drawn deeply into the world of drug trafficking.

    Traffik is in many ways superior to the film version. The characters are more rounded and the extra length allows the stories to unfold at their own pace. The character of the drug baron's wife is more believable in this version. And the story in Pakistan is a more believable portrait of desperate farmers, ruthless criminals and widespread corruption than the Mexican story in the movie. When the action returns to Britain the story seems more pat and predictable, and this is the weak link in the three tales that make up this engrossing series. There are occasional lapses into melodrama but overall the series is realistic and believable. The acting is uniformly fine, something I had concerns about with the usually cold and antiseptic Lindsay Duncan in the cast, but even she manages to elicit some sympathy for what is essentially a despicable character. Pakistani actors Jamal Shah and Talat Hussain are both excellent, as is the unlikely British lead Bill Paterson. The location shooting also sets this apart from a lot of drama series which never venture outside their country of origin.

    If you enjoyed the movie, you will undoubtedly also enjoy this excellent series, now receiving its second DVD release in Australia. Note that this series has been given an R rating for high level drug use, which seems excessive to me given that the material comes down hard on all aspects of the drug problem.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The series is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.29:1 and is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    While the series was obviously shot on film, the transfer here is from a video master. As a result it is not particularly good, though it is watchable. If you recall the quality of some of the 1970s television series that have made it on to DVD you will know what to expect.

    The video is neither sharp nor finely detailed, though at no time did this affect comprehension of what was happening on screen. Colour is washed out and lacking in vibrancy, though to an extent this may have been an artistic choice, to give the series a sense of realism. Shadow detail is average at best.

    There are numerous artefacts to negotiate. The most annoying of these are the smearing of motion detail and the frequent flaring of bright objects. There are a lot of MPEG artefacts and chroma noise is also present. There is a grainy appearance to most scenes. Because the series was shot on film there are occasional small flecks and dirt, which would have been visible in the original broadcast episodes.

    Subtitles are provided when the actors are speaking German or Urdu (I assume), and they are burned-in. Again, this is how the series would have appeared in the original broadcast, so I have no issue with them being non-removable. They are in a white font inside a darker translucent rectangle which is visible against lighter backgrounds. Unfortunately there are no optional subtitles for the spoken English.

    The series comes on two discs, both of which are RSDL-formatted. On disc one the layer break occurs at 28:12 during episode 2, and on disc two at 38:41 during episode 5.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There is only one audio track. It is Dolby Digital 2.0 and appears to be monaural.

    Dialogue is clear throughout. Even the thickly accented English dialogue spoken from time to time by the German characters is easy to understand, so the absence of subtitles is not a major issue (except for people with hearing difficulties).

    The sound is reasonable for an older TV series, though there is some occasional distortion and regular sibilance. The dynamic range is also adequate.

    Synthesizer music is used sparingly throughout, and is quite effective when it does appear. Original music is by Tim Souster, and Fiachra Trench has arranged music from some of Shostakovich's string quartets.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Trailers (11:48)

    Trailers for other Umbrella releases, being Meantime, Year of the Gun, Shallow Grave and The Great Bookie Robbery.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There is a US Region 1 release from Acorn Media. According to reviews the audio quality is substandard, which leads at least one reviewer to conclude that the actors speaking English in the Pakistani sequences have been dubbed. This is not an impression I obtained from watching the Region 4. The US release is also a PAL to NTSC conversion, so I would expect that the Region 4 is of better quality.

    The reviews of the Region 1 are inconsistent, with one indicating that there are no extras, and the other stating that there are text filmographies and a text comparison between the series and the film version, and a short making-of featurette. Even if the extras are present the quality of the Region 4 transfer seems to be superior.

    Warner Vision previously release this series on DVD in Region 4. Judging by the review of that release the reissue is an improvement. Specific faults noted in the video do not appear on the Umbrella disc.

    The Region 4 release seems to be the best option at the moment.

Summary

    A superb, entertaining British TV series.

    The video quality is average.

    The audio quality is good.

    No substantial extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, April 08, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

Other Reviews NONE
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Original R2 release - penguin (there is no bio)
Original R2 release - penguin (there is no bio)