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Danny Boyle
Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald, Peter Mullan, James Cosmo, Eileen Nicholas
Writing Credits:
Irvine Welsh (novel), John Hodge

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a starter home. Choose dental insurance, leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose your future. But why would anyone want to do a thing like that?

From the director of 28 Days Later ... The motion picture sensation that wowed critics and audiences nationwide, Trainspotting delivers a wild mix of rebellious action and wicked humor! It's the story of four friends as they try to make it in the world on their own terms ... and who end up planning the ultimate scam! Powered by an outstanding cast of stars including Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller and a high-energy soundtrack, Trainspotting is spectacular, groundbreaking entertainment!

Box Office:
$3.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$262.000 thousand on 8 screens.
Domestic Gross
$16.501 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 6/1/2004

Disc One
• Audio Commentary With Director Danny Boyle, Producer Andrew MacDonald, Actor Ewan McGregor and Screenwriter John Hodge
• Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
Disc Two
• “Look of the Film” Featurette
• “Sound of the Film” Featurette
• Interviews
• “Behind the Needle”
• Cannes Interviews
• Trailers
• “The Making of Trainspotting
• Biographies
• Gallery


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Trainspotting: Collector's Series (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 23, 2004)

Sometimes movies hit the screens with a force that declares them as something innovative and special. They become heavily touted and we hear that they represent an important something or other. And then… well, things vary after that.

One such film came out in 1996. Trainspotting didn’t exactly light up the box offices, but it received virtually universal praise and launched some careers that so far mostly reach the level of “moderately successful”. It never seemed to go through any backlash, but it also doesn’t appear to maintain a terribly strong reputation. Where it’ll stand in the future… who knows?

What I do know is that eight years after the fact, Trainspotting still looks pretty good to me. We focus on the exploits of young Scottish heroin addict Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor). This clan includes fellow junkies Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) plus non-addicts Begbie (Robert Carlyle) and Tommy (Kevin McKidd). Though he disdains heroin, Begbie is a violent drunk, while Tommy works out, remains clean, and obsesses over soccer.

Really, Trainspotting doesn’t follow much of a plot, as it mainly traces Renton’s path. We see that he occasionally attempts to kick the habit and observe one such stab. Sick Boy goes off the drugs as well, mainly just to annoy Renton. He and some of the others walk a thin line between work versus the dole. They need to try to land jobs but find some way to screw up the interviews so they remain on welfare.

At one point Renton borrows a tape from Tommy; he switches it to steal a homemade sex tape that features Tommy and his girlfriend. This has negative repercussions when Lizzy (Pauline Lynch) discovers the tape's absence and dumps Tommy. Eventually he goes on a downward spiral, but that doesn't happen for a while.

In the meantime, Renton meets Diane (Kelly MacDonald) at a club. He bangs her at her house, but she boots him immediately after sex. It turns out that Diane's underage and only 15, though her parents don't seem to care. Eventually Renton decides to go back on the junk for no particular reason, and Tommy begins to shoot up as well.

That signals one negative turn, but the film's major decline begins when the baby of junkie Allison (Susan Vidler) ends up dead. No one publicly knew this, but the infant was Sick Boy's, and he turns even more self-concerned and cynical. The whole crew get more mired in their own nihilistic misery, and the police soon arrest both Spud and Renton. A repeat offender, the authorities send Spud to jail for six months, but Renton gets a suspended sentence if he kicks the habit. With the help of his parents, this occurs, and Renton decides to leave Scotland and his friends behind to head to a new life in London. The rest of the film follows what he does there and how his past comes back to haunt him.

All of that makes Trainspotting feel more like a somber “Movie of the Week” than it is. Clearly the film depicts a great deal of darkness and ultimately makes a judgment about the negativity of drug use. However, it doesn’t do so in a judgmental or condescending way. Indeed, the movie got slammed sometimes when it first appeared because critics accused it of glorifying heroin addiction. Those folks saw a different film than I did, I guess, as the ultimate point related to the negativity caused by drugs seems obvious, but it does show the euphoria felt by those on it - while it lasts.

Unquestionably, Trainspotting involves a lot of seedy characters, but it makes them generally likable and amusingly nasty. They should come across as totally reprehensible, but we mostly find them to be interesting and entertaining. Part of this comes from the movie’s way of interpreting the heroin high. Once Renton goes straight, the film’s perspective changes. One of the best examples comes from the depiction of Begbie’s violence. Early in the film, his psychotic behavior gets played for laughs, as the drugs clearly alter impressions. However, when a similar incident occurs late in the story, the perspective seems totally different and we don’t find Begbie’s terror to be funny anymore.

Happily, Trainspotting aptly handles the transition from the manic, gleeful cynicism of its first half to the darker, more somber second part. Unquestionably, one remembers the flick best for its flippant earlier parts. These are the showiest moments and remain the most memorable. However, the journey earns substance with its more subdued segments later in the movie.

The techniques work well. The poppier moments of the first half hook us and make sure that we stay engaged through its end. To be sure, the final act isn’t as much fun as the prior material, though even those bits come leavened with unpleasant bits. Of course, some of these get played for laughs, like the disgusting scene in the “worst toilet in Scotland”. They get more traumatic later, such as via Renton’s cold turkey hallucinations.

All the actors engage fully with their characters and help elevate the material. Much of the time they come across as over the top, but appropriately so. They don’t feel afraid to demonstrate their character’s seedier sides and all their flaws, as virtually no egos seem on display here.

I’d not seen Trainspotting in years before this DVD arrived, and I really maintained no strong feelings toward it either positive or negative. While some elements of the movie seem a little dated - one will definitely view it as a product of the mid-Nineties - the flick works surprisingly well. I found myself totally involved in the story and the characters and thought the movie conveyed its world very well. It’s too dark for a mass audience, but those with a taste for this kind of flick should really dig Trainspotting.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B+

Trainspotting appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite some inconsistencies, the movie mainly presented a good - if low-budget - picture.

Sharpness varied but usually seemed solid. Occasional wide shots offered some softness, and the presence of mild to moderate edge enhancement exacerbated these issues. However, most of the movie came across as reasonably delineated and defined. No concerns with jagged edges or shimmering manifested themselves. Print flaws appeared somewhat heavy, at least for a modern movie. I noticed periodic flecks of grit or specks, but I expected these issues given the flick’s no frills nature. They were more frequent than I’d like, but not terrible.

I also figured Trainspotting would feature a grim and dismal palette, and I mostly got what I expected. The movie tended toward sickly greens and other drab hues. Occasional bouts of brighter colors showed up, but mostly the movie presented the kind of lightly nauseating tones that fit for a piece about heroin addicts. In any case, the colors were appropriately rendered. Blacks seemed fairly tight and dense, while low-light shots displayed adequate definition. Much of Trainspotting looked pretty good, but between the various print flaws and the edge enhancement, it didn’t merit above a “B-“.

Somewhat surprisingly Trainspotting comes equipped with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Less surprisingly, I didn’t hear much difference between the pair. If anything, the Dolby mix seemed a little warmer and more natural, but the variations appeared minor.

Not exactly an auditory extravaganza, Trainspotting’s soundfield was dominated by music. The songs that comprised the mix presented fairly good stereo imaging, though the quality depended on the source material. The music also spread fairly well to the surrounds. Effects played a more modest role in the proceedings, but they added some moderate reinforcement and sense of environment.

Audio quality seemed acceptable but erratic. Given the dense accents, clear speech became important, but the track replicated the lines only sporadically well. The lines occasionally came across as somewhat thick, but they usually appeared fairly concise and distinctive. Music varied due to source issues and could range from reasonably vibrant to moderately harsh. Effects followed suit, as those elements occasionally betrayed a hard, metallic sound. They usually were fine, though, as was the mix overall. Too many mild problems cropped up for the audio of Trainspotting to earn more than a “B-“.

For this 2-DVD release of Trainspotting, we find a mix of extras. On Disc One, we open with an audio commentary from director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew MacDonald, actor Ewan McGregor and screenwriter John Hodge. This commentary comes straight from the 1997 Criterion laserdisc; so straight, in fact, that McGregor still introduces it as being for the Criterion laserdisc! The commentary comes from a mix of sessions and gets edited into one coherent whole.

Despite a few more blank spots than I’d like, the track generally conveys a lot of good information about Trainspotting. We learn much about variations between the book and the movie as well as the rationale for those alterations and some deleted footage. We get many notes about the actors and their work as well as sets, locations, musical choices, and thematic concerns. Budget topics turn up frequently, as well as bits about the movie’s aftermath. A mix of grander topics and fun trivia, the commentary provides a nice general examination of the movie. It proves briskly paced and entertaining.

Also on Disc One - and also straight from the Criterion LD - we get a collection of nine deleted scenes. These run between 33 seconds and two minutes, 23 seconds for a total of 10 minutes, 25 seconds of footage. The closest thing to a major removed subplot here comes from shots of a mate of Renton’s who goes straight and gets his leg amputated by accident. Otherwise, the shots all comprise short bits that don’t add much. Still, they’re somewhat interesting to see.

We can watch the deleted scenes with or without commentary from Danny Boyle, Ewan McGregor, Andrew McDonald, and John Hodge. They cover the basics such as the reasons for the excisions as well as some decent notes about the clips. We even get some funny cracks like McGregor’s explanation that they needed to cut one scene because it showed him in his underpants. The commentary seems useful and fun.

Now we head to DVD Two, where we open with four pieces in a section called “Retrospective”. The first two split into “Then” and “Now” segments; “Then” are interviews from the time of the movie’s creation, while “Now” present modern commend.

This starts with Look of the Film. “Then” lasts four minutes, two seconds, while “Now” goes for three minutes, 13 seconds. Production designer Kave Quinn comments “Then” as she talks about the visual elements and their inspirations. “Now” offers remarks from Boyle, MacDonald, and Hodge as they present some general notions of the movie’s look. “Then” seems substantially more informative, as “Now” is a bit superficial and bland.

In Sound of the Film, we also go “Then” (7:41) and “Now” (4:50); both MacDonald and Boyle appear for each segment, and Hodge also shows up for “Now”. “Then” goes into the basics of mixing the sound plus the challenges caused by all the music licensing issues. “Now” focuses mainly on the music used for the end segment as well as some other topics connected to acquiring and selecting the songs. Neither track seems revelatory, but they illustrate their subjects fairly well.

Four subsections show up in Interviews. We get “Origins - Irvine Welsh” (four minutes, 36 seconds), John Hodge (7:58), Danny Boyle (14:32), and Andrew MacDonald (10:32). The first one presents the novel’s author on the flick’s set as he prepared to shoot his cameo. He goes into subjects connected to the tale’s adaptation. It’s pretty insubstantial.

Not surprisingly, Hodge mostly discusses issues connected to the adaptation, though he also gets into topics like the cast and working with Boyle and others. Boyle chats about his interest in the book and more about the adaptation, shooting on a low budget, the actors, some specifics of the shoot and the flick’s tone, the portrayal of drugs and reactions to the movie, and its impact and marketing. Finally, MacDonald covers bringing the flick to the screen, the rapid production, critical and popular reception, and its legacy and impact. The tone seems fairly reflective, and the information offers a decent look at the movie’s overall impression on the film world and that of the participants.

In Behind the Needle, we get a multi-angle feature that lasts six minutes and 24 seconds. One angle shows behind the scenes footage from the set, while another lets us watch and hear from Boyle as he examines the sequence; the third option offers both angles on one screen. We check out the shooting of a needle injection sequence. The Boyle shots seem useless, especially since we can hear his audio with all three options. Granted, the footage from the set doesn’t seem terribly interesting either. This presents a pretty mediocre look at the shoot.

This area also includes “Calton Athletic Boys”, a 32-second clip. We hear from McGregor who chats about research with former heroin addicts and how it changed his impression. It’s a quick and slightly informative snippet.

Cannes presents soundbites from some folks at the 1996 festival. We get comments from Ewan McGregor (46 seconds), plus actor Martin Landau (54 seconds) and musicians Noel Gallagher (two minutes, 12 seconds) and Damon Albarn (64 seconds). They all offer their impressions of the film in these marginally interesting clips. The “Cannes Snapshot” runs 117 seconds as it presents some additional celebrity reactions to the flick plus shots from a party. (Some of the soundbites repeat what we heard already.)

Inside the trailers domain we get two ads: the teaser and the theatrical clip. The Making of Trainspotting offers a nine-minute and 32-second promotional featurette. We get movie snippets, shots from the set, and interviews with MacDonald, Boyle, Hodge, Welsh, Kevin McKidd, McGregor, Ewan Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and Robert Carlyle. It goes through basic issues like adaptation, the characters, the approach to the material, research, sets, and the use of music. It runs through these subjects too rapidly to offer any depth, but it seems more satisfying than most programs of this ilk.

Up next are text Biographies for director Boyle, producer MacDonald, writer Hodge, and actors McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle and Kelly MacDonald. These offer basic information and no more.

Within the Gallery we get a running collection of photos. The package lasts five minutes, five seconds as continuity Polaroids and a few other shots from the set. It’s a decent set.

Although I feared Trainspotting might not have aged well over the last eight years, I needn’t have worried. The movie still seems fresh and exciting, as it remains a vivid and forceful work despite imitators seen since 1996. The DVD presents flawed but decent picture and sound as well as a very good roster of supplements. The minor concerns I have about visual and audio quality don’t outweigh the positives here, so Trainspotting comes with my recommendation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8636 Stars Number of Votes: 22
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