Trainspotting has a lot to answer for. Since Danny Boyle’s seminal filming of Irvine Welsh’s drug-lifestyle tale, directors and producers have been lining up to try and replicate that film’s success, aided substantially by modern dance culture and the drugs that circulate within and fuel it. Justin Kerrigan’s Human Traffic is certainly not the first film to take its cues from Trainspotting, but - unlike some of the other players in this increasingly crowded, self-aware field - Human Traffic attempts to be more than just a drug culture movie.
Immodestly marketed overseas as “the last great film of the 90s” (!!), Human Traffic tells the story of one night in the clubbing life of the bored and frustrated Jip, who, like his friends, lives and breathes for the weekend, when he can escape from his boredom-filled working life. There’s not a great deal of plot here - and what little there is concerns itself far more with teen romance than it does drugs. Loaded to the gills with quirky straight-to-camera dialogue and surrealistic fantasy sequences, Human Traffic come across like a modern update of a John Hughes teen movie, and the main thrust of the story - the budding romance between Jip and his best friend Lulu - is straight out of Some Kind Of Wonderful. There are also elements of director Cameron Crowe’s style to be found here - make no mistake, this is no hard-core drug movie, but instead a predictable but often winning piece of fluffy entertainment, skilfully made and effortlessly entertaining if a little short on substance (pardon the pun) and boasting an appealing young cast. The Trainspotting connection is well taken care of, though, via the odd bit of stream-of-consciousness dialogue in the Irvine Welsh style (a good slab of this is the first thing that attacks you when you load the disc) as well as a knowing reference to the film itself in the script.
Human Traffic was a soundtrack-album-driven project, its double-disc compilation CD companion well regarded by those who like their dance music accessible and melody-laden. Even if dance and techno music is as appealing to you as a night out at a Liberal Party function, though, you’ll almost certainly find something to like amongst the dozens of tracks that constantly play throughout the film.
Ultimately, Human Traffic is a well made bit of no-brainer fluff, a teen flick transported into the world of pills ‘n’ thrills with a heady dose of stylistic excess and a lot of attitude. Though it could have been a disaster, it works - mainly because it comes complete with a warm heart.
Why this film scored an R rating in Australia (for “drug use”) is a mystery - while there’s plenty of drug use going on throughout, none of it’s gratuitous and the ultimate message of the film is almost anti-drug. Rest assured that unless you’re defiantly against watching any kind of fictional entertainment that deals with drugs, you’ll find little to offend in Human Traffic.
Magna Pacific’s DVD of Human Traffic, by the way, is essentially a direct copy of the original UK release, with “localisation” done here in Australia. That means that the video and audio transfers, the menu design and the extras are all identical to those found on the region 2 release - an admirable decision by Magna, who’ll hopefully do this more often in the future.
Presented at its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and 16:9 enhanced, Human Traffic comes up well on DVD despite presenting some obvious compression challenges thanks both to the nature of the material and that of the telecine transfer itself. While generally well transferred from film, there is a fair amount of grain present which appears to have come both the film source itself as well as the telecine process - a state of the art transfer this certainly is not, but it’s by no means a failed effort either.
Any amount of grain is going to make for a difficult compression job, and certainly there’s some instability and mild artefacting on heavily detailed backgrounds and other objects; aliasing crops up from time to time, but it is mild enough not to be distracting. Black levels are generally good, with often-excellent shadow detail. A few scenes here were shot on videotape and transferred to film (a deliberate choice made to attain a “look” on these scenes). Naturally, the image quality here is mediocre, but that was the director’s intention.
All in all it’s a reasonably good transfer effort, especially for a lower-budgeted non-studio film, and all the more impressive for being crammed onto a single layered DVD.
Only one audio track is on offer here - a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround effort that shows off the complex and music-laden soundtrack well. Dialogue is mostly recorded on location and sounds a bit flat on occasion, though never to the point of unintelligibility; the music and effects, meanwhile, are spread across the surround stage with rampant enthusiasm, particularly during the nightclub scenes.
As lively as the movie itself, this is an audio track that serves its purpose extremely well and provides virtually nothing to complain about.
Great fun - but not anything to be taken too seriously - Human Traffic takes a distinctive element of popular culture, places it right in the middle of Wales and throws in some tried and tested Hollywood elements for good measure; the result, while by no means perfect, is a kinetic and often very amusing diversion with attitude and adrenalin to spare.