Trainspotting takes place in Scotland and follows Marc Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his gaggle of misfit friends; Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Begbie (Robert Carlyle), Tommy (Kevin McKidd) and Spud (Ewen Bremner). Each one of them is a far cry from what one would consider a respectable human being and nearly all of them, save for Begbe, is addicted to heroin.
Amidst a group of individuals that have no redeeming qualities, Renton is the odd one out that shows some form of conscious thought and at least seems to be making attempts at bettering himself, even if he does keep failing. This is important, as without the charm of the Renton character, I don't think the story could work, nor would anyone care if it did. Amongst the dark humor and devil-may-care attitudes, there's some real darkness and destructiveness going on in this film. There needs to be some form of hope, even if it's found within the hopeless, and Renton is, for better or worse, that small glimmer of it.
Most of the film doesn't so much follow a straight narrative device as it primarily just jumps from situation to situation following whatever Renton's next move may be, which most of the time begins or ends with him shooting up at the Mother Superior heroin den. This almost aloof form of storytelling does lend itself to the film's more abstract moments (Renton's infamous dive into "the worst toilet in Scotland," his hallucinations during a cold turkey spell) and gives these moments a greater sense of belonging and cohesion. It also aids in some of the film's almost chaotic tonal shifts, which could really break up the flow of the film if not handled correctly, but under Boyle's direction come out flawless.
Eventually Renton gets his wits about him and takes off for London, leaving his friends and past ways behind, or so he thinks. It's not long before his buddies find him and get him invested in one last big crime, and much like the Renton we've gotten to know throughout the film, he just can't say no.
This last act of the film manages to take Renton from his most betraying to, one can hope, the beginnings of him finally sorting himself out. When the film opens with his "choose life" speech, Renton is full of snark and spite towards society's idea of life and the pursuit of happiness. By the film's end, Renton has a much different tone in his voice towards such ideals, and may, for the first time, be on his way to making a real life for himself.
Trainspotting was director Danny Boyle's second effort as a film maker (the first being the cult favorite Shallow Grave) and it's evident that he already well had down his own brand of storytelling. With a shoestring budget compared to most films, the film has quite a gritty look to it, but it's quite fitting to the story itself and Boyle takes every advantage of this look. Most of the film was compiled off of "one take" scenes. This was also based mostly on monetary issues, but in turn helped give the film a shock of realism and authenticity that would most likely have been lost in a "take after take" situation.
Boyle also gets to truly shine within the previously mentioned moments of abstractness. There's a fine line between surreal and unbelievable, but everything, no matter how absurd, manages to maintain a sense of reality about it, and that's all credit to Boyle's direction.
As much as this is Boyle's film, it wouldn't be anywhere near the modern classic that it is without the stellar ensemble cast. Even in the opening montage, where the viewer is treated to brief, yet vivid glimpses of each character in various situations, the seeds of each individual character are planted and begin to establish each one as an integral part of the complete story. No one is throwaway, and each is so distinct in nature and appearance that you could have made a film following any single one of them. However, it is McGregor's show, and his portrayal of Renton easily stands out among the pack. Even while portraying a thieving, corrupt junkie you could tell that he had the chops to be the movie star that he would soon become.
A conversation about Trainspotting without mentioning its incredible soundtrack would be a truly heinous oversight that one should never make. Not only is every bit of music used to push the chaos and emotion of every scene, but , as the movie never gives a set time line of the events taking place, the filmmakers instead used music as a way of echoing the time period a particular scene would be taking place. Only Scorsese or Wes Anderson come to mind as filmmaker's that can successfully mesh music with a scene as well as Boyle does. The scene of Renton's overdose coupled with Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" is just cinematic bliss, and one of my personal favorite bits of film ever.
The last thing I would applaud the film for is its ability to show the highs and lows of drug culture. Most films involving drugs seem to solely shoot for the glorification and good times the drugs provide. While Trainspotting paints a vivid picture as to why these people are all caught up on heroin, it also shows the consequences of the junkie lifestyle. Shame, degradation, disease and death are all on display and makes for a much more honest portrait of life built around drug use.
For Trainspotting's fifteen year anniversary, Lionsgate has released the film with a AVC 1080p encode that, while not show-stopping, is hands down the best this film has ever looked. Most of the film has a rather dark, muted look to it, save for some of the more abstract scenes which pop with colors. With this new transfer, both styles shine and it helps add a sense of separation to said moments. There are definitely some soft spots, but one would think that most of that could be attributed to the small means by which the film was made.
The audio mix, a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track, is not only flawless, but almost as aggressive as the film itself. Those opening beats of "Lust for Life" are in your face, yet seem mixed exquisitely with the narration that plays over it, and this sets the tone for the rest of the films audio. Renton's narration is always clear and focused in the fronts but you still get background dialogue and ambient noise in a nice surround that always compliments and never burdens. The film also boasts one of the most memorable soundtracks of the past 25 years, and hearing these songs in this mix is truly astounding.
Beyond The Feature
Trainspotting comes to Blu-ray with a decent amount of extras, although they are all in Standard Definition and all are ported over from the two previous DVD releases.
Audio Commentary: This commentary track features Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor, John Hodge and Andrew MacDonald. It seems to be more made up from various interviews rather than the usual "sit down and watch" style. While this is by no means bad, it does create lulls at times. Still, it's rather informative and, while it does cover much that is discussed in the various other features on the disc, it is definitely worth a listen.
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary (SD, 11 min): Nine scenes are offered here, most fleshing out a bit more of the supporting group. Most were cut in a combination of keeping Renton the film's focus, as well as feeling like the viewer could piece together anything the scenes provided. Definitely worth a watch, though.
Trainspotting Retrospective (SD, 20 min): This feature is split up into two categories, 'The Look of the Film' and 'The Sound of the Film.' Both sections also offer a "Then" (1995) and "Now" (2003) perspective. These are all fairly short, but provides a nice contrast between the filmmakers while there in the middle of making the film and then with, at the time, about 7 years of perspective on their collective work. A must see for fans.
Interviews (SD): Although just about all of these can be found spread out within the 'Retrospective' feature, this section contains four interviews featuring Director Danny Boyle (15 min), Producer Andrew MacDonald (11 min), Screenplay writer John Hodge (8 min) and Trainspotting novelist Irvine Welsh (5 min). Each of these can be viewed separately. They mostly cover what it took to get the film made (adapting, financing, casting) and then discuss the public's reaction to the finished product.
Behind the Needle (SD, 7 min): This is a pretty cool feature focusing on one of the time Renton shoots up. It provides three separate camera angles to watch the scene. One consists of Danny Boyle watching and commenting, one is simply raw footage or you can choose the split screen option and enjoy both simultaneously. There's also a brief snippet with Ewan McGregor referred to as "Calton Athletic Boys" where he discusses spending time with some real life addicts.
The Making of Trainspotting (SD, 10 min): This is a pretty standard making of, featuring on-set interviews and behind the scenes looks. It feels like it could have been longer and definitely retreads information that has been well covered within the other features. Still, it's worth a look. I will warn you that nearly every 30 seconds it cuts to the title screen of the movie and makes the train horn sound. I hope whoever edited this piece was properly sacked.
Cannes (SD, 7 min): Featured here are few very brief interviews from the films premiere at Cannes. Included are musicians Noel Gallagher and Damon Albarn, and actors Martin Landau and Ewan McGregor. There is also a quick look at the premier party for the film. Not a whole lot to see here.
Photo Gallery (SD, 5 min): A collection of on-set photos and production stills
Also included is a Digital Copy, the Theatrical Teaser (SD, 1 min) and Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 min).
Trainspotting is a cinematic punch in the face in all the best ways. It hits you hard with its humor, its style and its realism. It challenges the viewer to look right into the faces of a group of people often ignored and to see their side of things. The film features stunning performances from everyone involved and is pulled completely together by Boyle's creative vision.
People throw around the phrase "Modern-Day Classic" quite a bit, but in my mind Trainspotting fits the bill. This Blu-ray release isn't the grand 15th anniversary edition I was hoping for, but with a strong transfer, an even better audio mix and a wealth of special features, it's damn near close. Highly recommended.
- Matt Hardeman
Shop for Trainspotting: 15th Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (September 13, 2011 release date).