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Featured Blu-ray Review: Trainspotting

September 12th, 2011

Trainspotting - Blu-ray: Buy from Amazon

Trainspotting came out 15 years ago and while it cost just over $3 million to make, and just $750,000 for the U.S. distribution rights, it earned amazing reviews and pulled in more than $16 million during its limited release. However, can the film still have the same effect it did when it was first released?

The Movie

Trainspotting takes a look at five friends, whom we are introduced to during the opening narration: Renton, Sick Boy, Begbie, Spud, and Tommy. After the intro, we see Renton, Sick Boy, and Spud, who are with Allison, Sick Boy's girlfriend, and Dawn, Allison's infant daughter, at Mother Superior's place, their dealer, scoring a heroin fix. (Dawn isn't actually on heroin; they are neglectful, not completely depraved.) Begbie isn't an addict, at least he's not a heroin addict. He gets his buzz from random violence. Tommy's the only clean one of the group.

Despite extolling the virtues of heroin in his opening narration (it boils down to, 'When you are high, you don't care about anything else.') Renton suddenly decides to give it up, as does Sick Boy, just to prove to Renton how easy it is. He's able to get off easily enough, and does enjoy some of the aspects of being sober, like the return of his libido. Unfortunately he hooks up with, Diane, and this turns out to be a disastrous decision. That's not to say she's a bad person; she's arguably the nicest person in the movie. However, she's also only 14. Sobriety is obviously not going his way. Worse still, he accidentally causes Tommy to lose his girlfriend, and as a result, Tommy decides to try heroin as well. It's going to take something horrifying to get him off drugs, which happens soon enough.

We've gotten into pretty big spoiler territory here, so that's when we will stop.

Trainspotting is a really good movie, but an incredibly hard movie to watch. I can't believe some people thought this movie was pro-drug when it first came out. Did they watch the same movie? Sure, they show people having fun while high, but if people didn't enjoy the high, people wouldn't do drugs in the first place. They also show the consequences, and those far outweigh the highs. One of the consequences is a lack of appetite, in the viewer. I feel ill after seeing this movie. This is the biggest drawback to the movie and I can understand if potential audience members would be turned off by its graphic nature, or if those who watched the movie before don't want to see it a second time. There are a number of scenes that are really hard to take.

The second drawback to the movie is its repetitiveness. The very nature of drug addiction involves trying to score the next hit and this film follows Renton has he tries to get sober and fails numerous times, which adds to the repetitive nature of the movie. Fortunately, director Danny Boyle adds a really sense of visual style to the movie to prevent the film from ever getting boring.

Those issues are minor compared to the incredible strengths the movie possesses. The acting is amazing from top to bottom. Many talk about this film as a star-making performance by Ewan McGregor, although I knew he would be a star after I saw him in Shallow Grave. Both Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle nail their characters, by which I mean I wanted to punch them in the face repeatedly. Kelly Macdonald and Ewen Bremner also deserve praise for their performances. Quite frankly, I'm a little surprised the cast didn't pick up any nominations for major awards. The only Oscar nomination was for the script, which also earned John Hodge a WGA nod, and he deserved the recognition. Danny Boyle earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. It really deserved more recognition in this regard.

One final note: This is the director's cut of the film, which basically means it's has two scenes that were originally cut during its theatrical release (one for graphic drug use and the other is a sex scene) and it also has the original dialog, some of which was changed to make it more understandable to North American audiences. (The accents and the slang can be hard to follow at times.) I believe the English SDH subtitle track is the edited version with some of the old slang removed, or it could be a few mistakes.

The Extras

The Blu-ray is shovelware, but it's shovelware from the 2004 Criterion Collection edition, so it's loaded with extras. These start with an audio commentary track with Danny Boyle, Andrew Macdonald, John Hodge, and Ewan McGregor. That's director, producer, screenwriter, and star respectively. It was recorded in 1996 for the laserdisc, but it is still hugely informative and worth checking out. There are ten deleted scenes, also with optional audio commentary track. There is a multipart retrospective on the film that includes featurettes on the music, the look of the film, filming the injection scenes, etc. Next up is a ten-minute making of featurette. There are several interviews from Cannes. Finally, there are images and trailers.

The look of the film is dodgy at times, some of which is intentional, some of which is an issue with the budget. Many scenes are on the soft side with colors that are muted. When called upon, the Blu-ray does show off good details and sharp colors and the blacks are deep, even if they can swallow colors at times. There are minor problems with flecks and other minor print damage, but nothing distracting. Even as its worse, it's still much better than the DVD. The audio is better with very clear dialog although not always understandable. (That accent is baffling a times.) There's plenty of activity in the surround sound speakers, much more than I was expecting, and effects are used well to build mood.

Finally we get to the price. Right now on, the Blu-ray costs just $11, which would be an acceptable price, even if there were no extras.

The Verdict

Trainspotting is a difficult film to watch, but it is worth getting through. The Blu-ray doesn't offer anything new in terms of extras, but it is still worth picking up thanks to its better than expected audio / video quality and the number of extras that were ported over from the previous DVD.

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Filed under: Video Review, Trainspotting