A jolt of adrenaline shot straight to the heart of 1990s British cinema, this darkly funny adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel was a major breakthrough for director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, and screenwriter John Hodge. With live-wire energy and stylistic verve, Trainspotting bounces across the life and times of Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), a Scottish heroin addict who, along with his misfit mates, gets high, gets in trouble, gets clean, and gets high again, all in a bid to outrun the banality of modern existence. Kinetically cut to an iconic soundtrack of techno, rock, and Britpop, this indie phenomenon chooses life in all its ugly, beautiful, terrifying exhilaration.
Danny Boyle's Trainspotting marks its return to The Criterion Collection with a new 4K UHD edition featuring Dolby Vision on a triple-layer disc, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 2160p/24hz ultra-high-definition encode comes from a brand new 4K restoration of the uncut version, meticulously scanned from the 35mm original camera negative. The release also includes a standard dual-layer Blu-ray with all the special features and a 1080p presentation sourced from the same 4K restoration.
The overall presentation is strong, surpassing the previous Lionsgate Blu-ray edition by a significant margin. However, there are some noticeable drawbacks, with the most significant issue being a recurring problem seen in some of Criterion’s recent 4K presentations—the rendering of highlights and brighter areas of the frames. Macroblocking can occasionally be detected in these brighter areas, compromising finer details and making these sections appear blown out. While not as severe as in some other releases, such as Walkabout, it still rears its head, particularly those featuring windows and the London montage. Some of the provided SDR screen captures highlight these issues, though they are, at the very least, less prominent in motion.
Despite these challenges, the overall encode remains healthy. Grain is faithfully rendered, providing a pleasing film-like appearance. Fine-object detail and textures are generally impressive, and the image is sharp on the whole, though some burned-in subtitles may appear slightly softer, possibly due to their sourcing.
The color palette leans towards green compared to previous home video releases, pulling back on the inflated reds or magentas often found in older masters. While certain interior shots may push a stronger green hue, the shift is still not overpowering on the whole, and skin tones appear more natural and less hot than in prior releases. Still, this color shift contributes to a darker appearance, but it’s one that feels more fitting to the film while also aligning with the vision described by production designer Kave Quinn in a featured segment on the disc. Despite that, the film still showcases vibrant pops of color throughout, particularly reds and blues.
The inclusion of Dolby Vision and HDR further elevates the image, enhancing reds and blacks, especially. Smokey interiors and strobe effects in various club settings are exceptionally rendered, with clean gradations and preserved details in shadows.
While it's somewhat disappointing that Criterion inconsistently grapples with rendering highlights (it’s odd their recent edition of Lone Star doesn’t feature the same issue), the overall upgrade remains impressive. Despite these sporadic issues, this edition stands as a worthy upgrade.
As with their LaserDisc edition, Criterion includes both the original 2.0 and remixed 5.1 surround soundtracks, both presented here in DTS-HD MA. The film's soundtrack is dynamic and lively, featuring a fantastic pop and techno music blend, and both soundtracks excel in reproducing the wide range between lows and highs. The dialogue is crisp and clear, with the overall audio free from noise, damage, and distortion.
Choosing between the two tracks comes down to personal preference. The 5.1 track offers a more immersive surround experience, especially noticeable in club scenes and Renton's surreal underwater journey, with decent bass that is never overbearing. The music mix is also slightly enhanced. On the other hand, I felt the 2.0 track delivered sharper and fuller dialogue.
Ultimately, both options prove effective and it will come down to personal preference as to which one to go with.
Criterion has assembled an extensive special edition for Trainspotting, blending new content with material carried over from their LaserDisc edition. The 1996 audio commentary featuring director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, screenwriter John Hodge, and actor Ewan McGregor, serves as an insightful exploration of the film's production. Covering various facets, the commentary delves into the challenges of adapting the novel, emphasizing the decision to focus on one central character, Renton. The discussions extend to casting choices, concerns about the film's universal appeal, and fun bits of trivia, such as suggesting that Keith Allen's character may be the same one he plays in "Shallow Grave."
This commentary is available on both the 4K disc and standard Blu-ray. Exclusive to the standard Blu-ray are additional video features, including a new 19-minute piece on designing the film's look. Production designer Kave Quinn and costume designer Rachael Fleming contribute to this video essay, offering insights into the research behind the film's visual elements, set designs, and costume creation. The piece also showcases reference photos and behind-the-scenes footage to show the stages of development.
Criterion also gathers musicians from the film's soundtrack, featuring text quotes or audio recordings from Iggy Pop, Bobby Gillespie, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Neil Barnes, Rick Smith, and Karl Hyde, providing brief comments on their involvement. Noel Gallagher also addresses his disappointment at not being involved with the soundtrack. While informative, this piece falls short of the comprehensive exploration of the iconic soundtrack I would have expected and runs for only a short 12 minutes.
Off the Rails: The Making of 'Trainspotting’ is a newly crafted documentary by Criterion, utilizing archival interviews with the cast and crew. It expands on topics covered in the commentary, delving deeper into script development and casting with behind-the-scenes footage. Through this footage, we also get to see the infamous injection scene, which used a rather clever fake arm for the effect.
It’s a solid addition, complimenting the commentary quite well. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feature many interviews from the cast, though the 45-minute 2008 documentary Memories of ‘Trainspotting’ makes up for it. Though it does repeat material around the script and production covered elsewhere, it does feature extended interviews with cast members, who shed light on their characters and experiences. Discussions about some of the film’s influences (including The Lost Boys) also add depth, and it’s kind of amusing to listen to the filmmakers talk about a potential sequel and how that might work (and it comes close to how the 2017 sequel, T2: Trainspotting, worked out).
Included from the LaserDisc (and also found on other releases) are nine deleted scenes, running for 10 minutes, with optional commentary. The commentaries more or less explain why the scenes were cut, and while I can’t say they were wrongly cut, they’re pretty great to watch all on their own. This includes an additional scene featuring Renton visiting Swanney in the hospital and another featuring Renton sitting in on a job interview (it’s funny, but after Spud’s, it was more of the same). The disc then concludes with the film's teaser, international trailer, and three minutes of outtakes from McGregor's audio commentary recording session.
The release comes with a 36-page booklet featuring an essay by Graham Fuller and a reprint of Irvine Welsh's essay from the LaserDisc. While lacking a separate glossary-of-terms insert, as the LaserDisc did (providing “translations” to terms from the film for North American viewers), they have instead been scattered throughout the booklet on the outer margins. The 4K edition also features elaborate packaging with a glow-in-the-dark design, incorporating clever touches like "Choose 4K UHD" or "Choose Blu-ray" on the disc art. I like the look of it and find it a bit fun, but it makes things a bit cumbersome if one just simply wants to watch the film.
Despite the absence of new material, the set provides a comprehensive and excellent collection covering the film's production and unexpected success.
Slight issues aside, Criterion’s new 4K edition delivers a significantly sharper presentation over all previous releases alongside a solid set of supplementary material. There’s room for improvement, but it should make fans happy,