Trainspotting: Ultimate Collector's Edition Review
Choose life. Choose a job. From that iconic opening monologue to the final frame, Trainspotting is a giddy, ballsy junkie rollercoaster ride. Based on the novel from Irvine Welsh, it tells the story of heroin addict Mark Renton trapped in inner-city Edinburgh during the recession of the early 90s. His constant voiceover takes us through Renton’s perpetual cycle of addiction and petty crime within a bleak urban landscape and his contempt towards this lifestyle, whilst also narrating the stories of fellow junkie friends Spud & Sick Boy, the dangerous sociopath Begbie, and clean living sports nut Tommy. Compressing the multiple narrations and episodic format of Welsh’s novel into a more conventional film narrative, Danny Walsh and scriptwriter John Hodge fashioned something akin to A Clockwork Orange, a film that uses wit, exaggeration and stylistic flair to drive a bleak social vision, but in a way that connects with mainstream audiences far more successfully than Kubrick’s film ever has. Renton’s facetious narrative is engaging and immediate, perfectly reflecting the mindset of many disaffected young adults leading working class lives in inner cities throughout Britain. Drugs are shown not as the answer, just the only distraction that can temporarily help the characters gloss over this social impasse.
Danny Boyle's direction is extremely playful, he’s clever enough to realise that the urban setting and addiction themes are all that’s needed to ground the story, so he just lets fly with visual pop-culture references and overtly stylish set pieces that abstract the reality of addiction and withdrawal. This stops the subject from ever appearing grim and earned the film a reputation for glamourising drugs, which it does to an extent, but it expresses the destruction of heroin addiction much more strongly than it ever does the highs. In fact if anything Trainspotting overstates this point, the character arc of Tommy for instance is so extreme within the confines of a relatively short and very playful feature film that it robs his story of any real pathos. This doesn’t distract from what Boyle and Hodge achieve with Trainspotting though, it’s an excellent film and back in 1996 it had particular impact, as it came out during that post-Tarantino glut of drug-themed films and proved that you could also make exciting films about the British drug scene, and do so without avoiding the real issues of the subject.
The Disc: Film4 have included all the extras from Universal’s 2-disc DVD on this BD-25 disc, which was basically an excellent selection of interviews that talked about all aspects of the film’s production and a very good audio commentary from McGregor, Boyle, Hodge, and producer Andrew Macdonald. These features combined should really tell you all you need to know about the film, but Film4 have also produced their own retrospective featurette specifically for this Blu-ray release called Memories of Trainspotting, which has the primary cast and crew reminiscing about their time on the film. Unfortunately the 1080p presentation isn’t given quite such loving treatment. In most areas the image is pleasing enough; Trainspotting has a rather muted appearance for the most part, which is exhibited in this transfer, colours are nicely defined and free from bleeding or noise, and when you hit the scenes that are lit with more vivid primary colours then the image looks more dynamic and striking, and the pale skin tones remain very consistent throughout. Contrast and Brightness are a little low, which again is the intended look of the film, so no complaints here, black levels are good even though there aren’t many dark scenes in Trainspotting. The AVC compression is excellent despite the film only taking up 16Gb, and the print used is in very good condition for a film almost 15 years old now, and a relatively soft, fuzzy layer of grain is present throughout, with no obvious signs of noise reduction.
The problem is that the image is noticeably soft, not DVD soft but it does look more like a 720p transfer than a 1080p transfer at times, which isn’t entirely a surprise given Trainspotting’s low budget origins, but to combat that lack of definition Film4 have completely nuked the image with Edge Enhancements. Ugly, distractingly thick halos outline the characters in many of the exterior scenes of the film and even infect some of the interiors as well, it may not be a major problem on Plasma and LCD displays, but on any screen above 5ft it really is a nuisance. Audio at least fares a little better, there are English DTS 5.0 and DD5.1 tracks to choose from that are equal in quality and provide decent (if unspectacular) presentation of the film’s audio. Dialogue sounds clear and clean, which is important for a film with such strong accents being used, and the dynamics are pretty solid. The soundstage is pretty expansive when needed, but the bass is definitely a little hollow and the treble response could be a little better.