Ralph Bakshi fans can rejoice. We finally have 'Heavy Traffic' in glorious high-definition. Whether you love or hate Bakshi's uncanny work in animation and film-making, you have to admit that his movies are fresh, hypnotic, and unlike anything you have ever seen. From 'Wizards' to 'Lord of the Rings' to his infamous 'Fritz the Cat' films, Bakshi has an incredible knack to entertain as well as disturb us to no end. Nothing is different here with one of his most disquieting works, 'Heavy Traffic', a movie that just might make the creators of 'South Park' blush.
Before 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' and Bakshi's own 'Cool World', he mixed live-action with animation with this 1973 film focused on a young guy named Michael Corleone. Yes, that is the character's real name, and Bakshi being a fan of 'The Godfather,' which was released just a year before, figured he'd borrow a few things. Michael is a virgin living in the brutal NYC, where his father Angelo "Angie" Corleone is a struggling mafia under-boss and hates the fact that his son is a virgin.
Angie also hates his Jewish wife, Ida and constantly abuses her physically and verbally. Michael's escape from this horrid existence is a bar in a seedy part of the city where he relaxes. The first tiny part of the film is live-action. This morphs into animation as we see Michael interact with a bunch of degenerate characters as he walks through the city. One of his only friends is Carole, the black female bartender who has taken a liking to Michael over the past several months.
Michael wants nothing more than to be rid of his family and be on his own, and he just might get his chance when a series of events is set in motion, starting with Carole quitting her job at the bar and moving in with Michael. Angie is very upset that his son is dating a black woman and thinks its a disgrace on the family, so he puts out a hit on his own son, to which the bouncer at Carole's bar is up for the job. Things spiral out of control from here and test Michael and Carole's love for one another.
It's interesting to see that Bakshi had the live-action Michael playing a pinball machine through the entire film. It's really a metaphor for Michael's insane life as he is bounced around in a frantic home life with his parents as well as on the gritty streets of NYC. And as the story goes on, we see glimpses of Michael becoming more and more like his father. The animation sequences have tons of sex, ultra violence, and language, making this one of Bakshi's most graphic films to date. It's not for the weak-willed.
The whole film has a chaotic feel. From the many voices talking at once throughout the film, to the many psychotic situations and psychedelic images that pop off the screen, it has an acid-trip likes sense that makes you squirm. It was all part of Bakshi's plan. The music in the film is amazing and is one of my favorite parts of 'Heavy Traffic' and adds to the overall jazzy and depressing tone of the film. This is one of Bakshi's best.
'Heavy Traffic' comes with a 1080p HD transfer presented in 1.67:1 aspect ratio. Much like the content, the image itself is gritty and somewhat rough with dirt cropping up from time to time. Most of the time, I would not like this aspect, but given the time period and the story of this film, I think it all adds to the experience. The live-action sequences look good for the most part with some good detail here and there, especially on the actors. However, with the wide shots of the backgrounds and buildings, everything looks vague and under-saturated, making it difficult to see the depth of the city. Maybe this is because Bakshi used a mix of live action backgrounds and animated backdrops.
The animation looks sharp, with bold and bright colors popping off the screen. Shading and textures also look good throughout, giving viewers a crisp picture most of the time. By far, this is the best this image has ever looked. That being said, there is a bit of grime, dirt, and specs that pop up throughout. I'm thinking this is from the source material and over time, given that this film is around 40 years old, there has been some considerate damage to the print. But overall, a decent video presentation.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD Mono Audio mix and does the job, considering the sound from the source material and its transfer. The soundtrack of 'Heavy Traffic' is amazing with songs by Chuck Berry, The Isley Brothers, Dave Brubeck, and Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66. I only wish this was in a glorious 5.1 audio mix, that way I could have fully immersed myself in this music and score. But, this being in mono, there isn't a fullness to be enjoyed.
'Heavy Traffic' suffers from many characters talking at the same time, making it a little more difficult to distinguish what is actually being said and which character is talking. Being in Mono, makes it even more laborious to tell apart the dialogue. That being said, the dialogue is always crystal clear, free of any hissing or cracks. The score and music sounds a little muffled and muted from time to time, maybe because of the transfer. The audio presentation could have been better, given this is mostly an animated film with great music.
There are no extras on this disc. Also there are no scene selections or other options on the main menu. There is merely a "Play Movie" button.
I love Ralph Bakshi and all of his work. 'Heavy Traffic' might be his most psychedelic work as well as his most disturbing. However, the characters, story, and music all combine to make one hell of a film. one that won't leave your mind any day soon. While the image looks decent, the audio is less than thrilling, and without a single extra, normally I wouldn't recommend this. But hey, it's Bakshi and one of his best films is finally on blu-ray, which for the movie itself, is reason enough to purchase. I definitely recommend this piece of cinema history.