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Trainspotting (1996) – DVD Review

Trainspotting DVD


Written by John Hodge, based on the novel by Irvine Welsh
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Kelly Macdonald, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd


  • Running audio commentary with director Boyle, scribe Hodge, and actors Macdonald, and McGregor
  • Deleted scenes with audio commentary
  • The Making of Trainspotting
  • Retrospective featurettes and interviews
  • Cast and crew bios
  • Photo gallery
  • Cannes Film Festival Interviews and Spotlight
  • Trailers

Released by: Miramax.
Rating: R.
Region: 1
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Own it.

[ad#longpost]Renton (McGregor) sees the conventional middle class lifestyle of 80s Edinburgh as soul deadening and meaningless. So he and his mates Sick Boy (Miller), Spud (Bremner), Begbie (Carlyle), and Tommy (McKidd) live a life of getting drunk, getting into pub fights, committing petty theft, and ultimately getting high on heroin. While this lifestyle is also soul deadening and meaningless, heroin makes degradation and chaos so much easier to deal with. Just shoot up and your troubles fade away. But real life still manages to break into Renton’s drug induced haze, all of which actually gets Renton to grow up a little despite himself. His friends are still the same wasted and violent wannabe criminals, though. Renton needs to escape his past, but will his so-called friends let him?

What can I say about one of the seminal films of the 90s that hasn’t already been said or written about? I have friends recommend it and condemn it. They either watch it again and again or they walked out of the theater halfway through. But I had never seen it, but finally got my chance. And I was impressed with it. It’s easy to see why McGregor got such a career boost from this performance. Of course, since that boost landed him in Lucas’ Trilogy of the Damned, he may be regretting it about now. But I digress. Still, while McGregor is the star, the rest of the cast gets plenty of opportunities to show their prowess. They all give depth and texture to what are basically junkies and thugs. They also manage to keep the Scottish brogue believable yet not too incomprehensible, at least most of the time.

The script they worked with gives an honest portrayal of drug addiction that’s neither glamorized nor demonized, it just presents it as is. There are points where you can tell where it’s an adaptation from a book because you sense that there should be something more to a character or plot line. This lack has a more definite shape to it than the usual formless deficiency you get with a lazy writer who doesn’t bother. But even in the face of this, the spirit of the story comes true strong.

Trainspotting cast

The imagery hits you hits you like a 2×4. From the infamous swim through the toilet to McGregor’s hallucinations when he goes cold turkey, the bits are always appropriate to the scenes and are never there simply to be there. Usually the environment in which a movie is in exists merely to awe and overwhelm. It’s a very rare thing to see the setup of a scene give subtext. An example: when Renton’s parents are taking him home in a crowded taxi after he nearly dies from bad heroin. In the small cab, Renton’s mom gets a cigarette, hands one to his dad, then to Renton, but he refuses. The juxtaposition between the closeness and the action of deliberate isolation simply gives us a reminder of Renton’s relationship to his family.

Also rarely when watching films these days do I see something that truly affects me. I mean, as a typical media-saturated American, I’m supposed to be immune to shock and awe. But there’s a scene of death in here that just knocked the wind out of me. When you really see somebody dead, you always get that sense of something missing, the soul if you will. But on most shows like ER, you can tell it’s a fake. But the scene was set so expertly, you feel the whole thing is real, and it hits you hard.

For its ten-year anniversary, the DVD has many features to be perused. There are the throwaway cast and crew biographies that are less than a page long. Some quickie interviews from the film’s premiere in Cannes are included for some reason, but they’re nothing impressive in the least. A photo gallery is a little better since it looks like they included pictures that were actually used in the production and not simply staged publicity stills, which can get old fast.

One of the bigger extras is the “Trainspotting Retrospective,” a collection of behind the scene featurettes. The featurettes discuss both aspects of the film itself, as well as covering the time the film was made and released, plus the present day with the participants looking back over the last ten years. There are interviews from the author along with the director, screenwriter, and main producer that discuss the process of making the film and how the success has affected them. The disc also includes the main making of featurette obviously titled “The Making of Trainspotting” and a shooting-up scene where you can observe the various angles it was shot in (no pun intended) with the director offering commentary.

All of this gives an overall idea of what was involved in making the film, both materially and creatively. Unfortunately, a lot of this is covered by the running commentary for the film itself. Now seeing the featurettes does allow the viewer to get all this information undistracted, but why bother, then, with the commentary? The commentary is good with the principals discussing specifics of a scene as well as general issues of getting the film made with a limited budget. One odd thing is McGregor announces who is about to talk, but only some of the time. I wish they figured out if they wanted this for every time somebody spoke up or not. If not, then cut it: the inconstancy is distracting.

Complaints aside, the extras do give us an insight into the making of a powerful and original film, which is worth owning by itself. I’d pick Trainspotting up if I were you.