Remember the scene in ”Traffic” where Michael Douglas’ drug czar character smokes cocaine? You know, after he finds his addicted teenage daughter’s crack gear and, desperate to understand what she sees in drugs, tries it himself, right there in her bedroom?
Before you pop a ginkgo biloba pill, relax: There’s no such scene in the finished movie. But you can find this jaw dropping interlude in Traffic: The Shooting Script, one of a passel of Academy Award nominated screenplays now playing in bookstores. It’s part of a general flood of published scripts currently filling shelves like so many pint size movie posters (which, frankly, is one of their primary functions; they’re as much ads as books). And since publishers’ galleys often have to be ready long before a movie leaves the editing room, what’s on the page can differ wildly from what’s on screen.
In Stephen Gaghan’s script for ”Traffic,” scores of differences show up as you scan the typewriter text pages (a sea of print capped by a few black and white stills). The scene of Douglas’ character navigating a Washington, D.C., cocktail party, for instance, runs to several times its length in the film, and has a much more satirical, ”Alice in Wonderland” feel. Reading rather than watching also lends more weight to certain details.
For instance, it’s impossible to guess by simply watching the movie that when a Mexican soldier tortures a drug cartel assassin, what he forces up the victim’s nostril is soda water laced with chili powder. As an indictment of torture as government policy, that’s stronger than the finished scene.