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.
Criterion brings the uncut version of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting back into the collection with a new Blu-ray special edition presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation is sourced from a brand new 4K restoration, taken from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative. I am working off the Blu-ray that comes with the 4K UHD edition.
Though I would say the UHD’s 4K presentation bests it out (despite its minor issues), this high-def presentation still delivers an impressive and overwhelming upgrade over all previous releases for the film up to this point, including Lionsgate’s Blu-ray edition. The scan appears to have superbly captured film grain and the finer details, while the encode does a solid, if imperfect, job rendering it out. Looking through screen captures, it's evident it can have a little trouble in some of the darker club scenes with flashing lights, with minor blocking evident in the shadows. However, it isn’t all that noticeable and can be easily ignored. Ultimately, the image offers a cleaner film-like presentation compared to older masters.
Black levels and colors look good, though the colors do lean a little greener and darker here than in previous presentations. Revisiting the Lionsgate Blu-ray (and the severely over-saturated Alliance-Atlantis DVD), the colors don’t look entirely right: they push heavier towards red, and skin tones can look particularly hot. They can also still come off a bit washed and have the typical look of most home video masters of the time. Honestly, I think the colors look fine, even better overall here, and if this is how it looked initially, I wouldn’t be surprised. Outside of a few interiors, the green hue isn’t all that prominent, and there are still plenty of instances featuring bold reds and blues.
The restoration has also cleaned things up substantially, and outside of some very faint lines running down the edges of the frame, nothing sticks out damage-wise. It’s a sharp and drastic upgrade.
As with their LaserDisc edition, Criterion includes the original 2.0 and remixed 5.1 surround soundtracks, both presented 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 choose.
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 is 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.
The video features start with a newly created 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 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. This footage also shows 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 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.
Despite the absence of new material, the set provides a comprehensive and excellent collection covering the film's production and unexpected success.
It is a rather substantial upgrade over previous releases, delivering a solid set of features and a lovely-looking high-definition presentation.