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Trainspotting
Miramax Collector's Series

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: R (For Graphic Heroin Use and Resulting Depravity, Strong Language, Sex, Nudity and Some Violence)

Running Time: 94 minutes

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Kevin McKidd, Johnny Lee Miller, Kelly MacDonald and Robert Caryle

Screenplay by: John Hodge
Based on the Novel by: Irvine Welsh

Directed by: Danny Boyle

 

Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features:
Disc 1: Audio Commentary with Director Danny Boyle, Screenwriter John Hodge, Producer Andrew MacDonald and Ewan McGregor, Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary
Disc 2: Look Of The Film, Sound Of The Film, Interviews, Behind The Needle, Cannes, The Making Of Trainspotting, Gallery, Biographies, Theatrical Trailers

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles,English Closed Captions, Scenes (20 Scenes), Two-Disc Set

Released: June 1st, 2004

 

 

People criticize Miramax all the time, but you have to give the Weinsteins and their employees some credit: these guys really know how to market independent movies and make certain ones big sensations. They proved their stuff with "The Crying Game" by centering on the big twist, they launched something beyond words with "Pulp Fiction" and in the summer of 1996, they generated tons of buzz by picking up a little movie from across the Atlantic entitled "Trainspotting." The movie became a critical success and did fairly well, but it became a big favorite in America and certainly ranks as one of the most memorable and influential films of the 1990s.

In truth though, there isn't much of a plot to "Trainspotting." It is not driven by a standard storyline, but rather, through its characters (a narrative device - if done right - I truly love, and yes it works wonders here). Much of the movie chronicles Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) and his friends, who escape life through drugs - particuarly heroin. The life they're escaping from is something normal and stable, a culture they seem to despise. But Renton wants to give up drugs for good, something that is a lot easier said than done. Renton goes through many ups and downs, but decides the only way he can kick his habit is if he escapes his pals in Edinburgh and heads to London. For awhile, his plan works - but some kind of plot does shift into gears within the film's last half-hour when Renton's friends find him, and the possibility of a major drug deal comes along. This catalyst tests friendships and Renton as a drug user and a person.

One thing that I think helped make "Trainspotting" such a memorable film was its message and stance on drug use. While what the story offers is not exactly direct, the movie isn't shy in its graphic use of heroin nor does it take sides. The film is not preachy in the slightest bit, but instead, through its sly characters, lets viewers make their own judgements about drug. Since the movie doesn't hold back, the story and imagery as a whole puts up and shuts up. But something does become clear throughout this, however: addicition is a serious matter that is not only something tough, but destroys things and creates a cycle - be it within oneself or other people - that just doesn't seem to end. A lot of pitfalls and terrible things happen to the characters in the movie due to them using drugs, and these events come back to haunt them. You keep going back to something that makes you feel good, even if there's a risk involved and can kill what you've worked so hard for. But then some things become more important than others, even when they shouldn't, and somehow new found pleasures and ideas tend to rapture you - even if there is no escaping the past, what you have done and ultimately what your sense of character is.

After 1994's "Shallow Grave," director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge continued to collaborate and it was with "Trainspotting" that broke them out. As far as I'm concerned, Boyle does a flawless job directing. He pumps a lot of emotion and energy into the movie and refuses to let it out. The film is paced exceptionally well and gives all sorts of glimpses and perspectives, and we get all that we should know about the characters and ultimate on-goings, and how it effects them. But Boyle is spectacular when it comes to visuals, with plenty of distinct quick cuts and some trippy moments and shots that strongly cultivate the film's rapid spirit. Oh, and how can you ignore the hip and perfect soundtrack that goes with it?

John Hodge's screenplay, adapted from Irvine Welsh's cult novel, is just as good as Boyle's direction (the script earned Hodge a well-deserved Oscar nomination). While I have never read the book the film is based on (as of yet anyway), Hodge's screenplay is something to admire. The way he lenses Renton and his experiences as an addict, and through the entire circle, gives the film a lot more weight then it appears to have at first. There is also a considerable amount of dark humor in the movie that isn't disgusting and somehow seems to fit right in the hole, even if the subject matter is stark. Hodge makes sure the supporting characters are not redundant and make their points, but what I love most about his screenplay is the dialogue. Granted some of it are probably Welsh's words, but Renton's voice-overs are not only insightful and carefully dictated, but are filled with truth and are remarkable.

Much of the film definitely belongs to Ewan McGregor as Renton. Renton narrates the story and the events of the film are shown through his eyes, and McGregor captures such a unique character flawlessly. This was McGregor's breakthrough role, and it's easy to see why he garnered so much acclaim for it. There is an unruly passion and desperation within Renton, and for all that boils in Renton, McGregor makes him a vulnerable character who is trying to find another escape in life, but is struggling to escape the past. Yet even through all that happens, including some bad things (other than drugs) McGregor still makes Renton a likeable character and one where we can see his justifcations for some of the things he is guilty of.

On the supporting side, Johnny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremmer and Kevin McKidd all do outstanding jobs as Renton's friends who deal with things in interesting ways. The actors are pitch-perfect, but their characters are intriguing in what they persue and what they succumb to when they are too depressed or not thinking clearly. Kelly MacDonald gives a too short but very memorable mark (not just because of the nude scenes) as Renton's young lover, while Robert Caryle gives a fabulous darkly but in-a-sick-way-its-pretty-damn-amusing performance as a psychotic friend of Renton's. The character claims to be not into drugs, but given his anger and over-the-top sadistic ways, it's easy to think otherwise.

With its quirks and subject matter, "Trainspotting" isn't a movie for everybody. But it is worth a look once, and it's easy to see why a generation of moviegoers attached themselves to the film. It's not just about drugs and addiction, but also takes a jab at the standards and guidelines a culture of consumption sets, and what means those go through to rebel it and then in a way finally accept what it's all about. As much as this film was unique and a breath of fresh air at the time, "Trainspotting" holds up particuarly well and in its own little way, will probably remain timeless.

 

Given a brand new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, this is the best shape I've seen "Trainspotting" in and will probably be the best home viewing experience of the film for a long time. The biggest detractor from the transfer is the print itself: it's sprinkled with blemishes, nicks and dirt pieces throughout, sometimes in heavy loads, and it isn't pretty. The print is also a bit soft and there is some noise, but the image quality still does shine overall. There is no edge enhancement, fleshtones look quite exquisite, detail is particuarly strong, and the color saturation hits things right on - the bright exteriors of the streets look nice, but the transfer certainly represents the murkiness of some visuals - such as the worst toilet in Scotland and Mother Superior's place. While the source print of the transfer is a little disappointing, nearly everything else is very pleasing to the eye.

 

This new release gives the film English 5.1 tracks in Dolby Digital and DTS (plus a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track). Each track features high fidelity and excellent sound dynamics. Dialogue is clear and easy to listen to, and surrounds have good imaging and definitely magnify the action (such as Renton's hallucinations and the chase through the streets, among other moments). But the film's fine musical selections definitely stand out, as they are creatively mixed through the channels with vigor. The film's opening sequence comes to mind, but the club scenes certainly bounce and pack great bass that can be a bit intense (all highlighted by the subwoofer). The Dolby Digital and DTS tracks are remarkably close though since they are both very energetic and certainly boom, but I'd have to go with the DTS over the Dolby Digital since the DTS is tighter and more satisfying. English subtitles and English closed captions are also included.

 

Finally given the special edition treatment it so rightfully deserves, and part of Miramax's Collector's Series line no less, those of you love this film will probably be overjoyed what's offered here. The first disc features the uncut international version of the movie. It's still MPAA rated, but it's the film with all its glorious nudity just as it was seen in many countries and it was intended to be.

The first disc also features two supplements, both pulled from Criterion's 1997 laserdisc edition of "Trainspotting." The Audio Commentary with Director Danny Boyle, Screenwriter John Hodge, Producer Andrew MacDonald and Ewan McGregor is simply outstanding. It seems Hodge and MacDonald are recorded together, while McGregor and Boyle made comments separately. No matter, the editing on the track is great and everything flows smoothly (even if McGregor interrupts things to state who's speaking next - probably because their voices sound rather similar). What makes this such a great track though is just how balanced it is - there are some intriguing stories about the production, some trivia and some casual technical details, but what I really loved is how there's a strong focus on the film's story and messages. Scenes are nicely dissected, but all the participants give a lot of insightful comments in what things mean and perspectives of the characters. I particuarly enjoyed Hodge's remarks and his development of the screenplay, and how he approached adapting the book. I also found it interesting that Boyle also envisioned a more lively ending and that McGregor refuses to talk about the toilet scene since he states interviewers always ask him about it (given that this track was recorded in 1996, and McGregor has erupted into a much bigger star since, I must conclude he was badgered quite a lot about that scene).

Topping it off are nine Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary. The scenes are mainly short (one is even a quick montage scene), some even mere extensions of others, but still worth a look if you like the movie. The commentary is with the feature participants, but they alternate on scenes it seems. The commentaries with the scene, like the feature, are pretty great and give reasoning behind why the chopping off.

The second disc begins with the Retrospective section. This is pretty interesting: two sections here ("Look Of The Film and "Sound Of The Film") are given two featurettes entitled "Then" and "Now." In "Then," we hear from the filmmakers back during the film's production and "Now" are lookbacks at the movie (with interviews that were recorded in February 2003). In "Look Of The Film," the "Then" portion has the movie's production designer Kave Quinn at work - she shows off how she's inspired for the film's design and look with various stills and it's pretty fascinating to see how dedicated she is and how she achieved the movie's look. In "Now," we hear from John Hodge, Andrew MacDonald and Danny Boyle about the importance of the film's visual elements and why they're important. "Sound Of The Film"'s "Then" has Danny Boyle doing the film's audio dubbing and talks about the complex process of laying down tracks. We also hear from Andrew MacDonald securing music for the movie. The "Now" part has MacDonald and Boyle mainly talking about the film's music years later, and how memorable it was and how certain songs worked really well (such as Iggy Pop). John Hodge also chimes in with his thoughts about the use of the music.

Under this section, the Interviews part has new thoughts with John Hodge, Andrew MacDonald and Danny Boyle while we also see a hi-8 interview filmed with the book's author, Irvine Welsh from the set (the day he filmed his cameo appearance). Welsh gives thoughts on his work, the filmmakers and even his bit role. As far as the principal filmmakers, their new interviews are well worth hearing if you like the trio. Hodge talks about his writing process and doing the adaptation; Boyle talks about the film's characters mainly as well as the story arc and themes; MacDonald on getting financing and what appealing to him about the project; and all three give thoughts on the final film. Things are mixed up with some MTV-esque editing and film clips (with the exception of the Irvine segment), but it is clear just how much the three like their jobs in the filmmaking process and how proud they are of the film. The stories are quite good here as well as the overall thoughts - I was surprised to learn that Hodge was originally a doctor with a strong interest in screenwriting.

In Behind The Needle, Boyle comments on one of Renton's heroin binges involving a fake arm. Three angles are given: Boyle watching the footage, the footage he's watching and a split screen of both. It's pretty neat and Boyle's comments are quite intriguing. There's also a thirty-second piece where McGregor talks about learning about drugs during rehearsal.

The Making Of Trainspotting lasts about nine minutes, and even if it's pretty promotional in nature and dated, it's still worth a look. It gives some of the filmmakers' thoughts featured elsewhere in the set in a nutshell: what appealed to them about the novel, approaching the film adaptation and so on. Irvine Welsh's footage from the Interviews section of the DVD is used here, as is footage of Boyle when he was doing the film's audio, but there are on-the-set interviews from the cast (it's good to hear from them as they talk about what they like about the story and character). There are the standard clips from the movie and clips from on-the-set. Nothing totally amazing, but it's still a decent inclusion.

The Cannes part of the disc has interviews with Martin Landau, Noel Gallagher (of the band Oasis), Damon Albarn (of the band Blur) and Ewan McGregor at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. The interview segments are pretty short, but give the film a buzz boost as far as comments about the movie and filmmakers. Then there's a two minute Cannes Snapshot where clips of some of these interviews are played, as well as sound bites from others: film critics, actress Toni Collette and some more musicians - and there's even a glimpse of Mick Jagger to be had.

Rounding things out are two Theatrical Trailers from overseas (no domestic ones, though), some short Biographies for the cast and crew and an automated still Gallery that lasts five minutes. This is a fine edition overall, and while it is great to hear thoughts from the main filmmakers, I wish more of the crew and the cast did some new interviews to talk about their experiences. On a different note though I must say though I liked the simple, but very stylish menus the DVD offers.

 

"Trainspotting" fans, your time has finally come. This two-disc DVD set not only offers the best presentation of the film yet (complete with an anamorphic widescreen transfer and a DTS track), but the comprhensive extras are superb (and are certainly worth the price of this DVD set alone). It's really great to see such an excellent film done right on DVD - I've personally been hoping for a new special edition of this movie for a really long time. If you held out on purchasing "Trainspotting" then your prayers have finally been answered. If you own a previous edition of the film, don't even question whether you should purchase this or not: you must upgrade.