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Trainspotting
Collector's Edition - 1996 (2004) - Miramax

review by Rob Hale of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Trainspotting: Collector's Edition

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/B

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
94 mins, R, anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), keepcase packaging, audio commentary (with Ewan McGregor, Danny Boyle, Andrew MacDonald and John Hodge), deleted scenes (with optional commentary), animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc One - Supplemental Materials
9 Retrospective featurettes (4x3, DD 2.0, total time approx. 60 mins), 5 Cannes featurettes (4x3, DD 2.0, total time approx. 7 mins), The Making of Trainspotting featurette (4x3, DD 2.0, 10 mins), teaser and theatrical trailers, Polaroid gallery, cast & crew biographies, animated film-themed menus with music, feature access, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


"I don't feel the sickness yet, but it's in the post. That's for sure. I'm in the junkie limbo at the moment. Too ill to sleep. Too tired to stay awake, but the sickness is on its way. Sweat, chills, nausea. Pain and craving. A need like nothing else I've ever known will soon take hold of me. It's on its way."

Trainspotting, directed by Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Shallow Grave), marked the beginning of the American careers of Ewan McGregor (Star Wars: Episodes 1 & 2) and Robert Carlyle (The Full Monty) and may have spun off as many imitators of the film's flamboyant style, in the years following its release, as Quentin Tarantino's films have. Upon its initial release, Trainspotting came under fire for glorifying drug use, a judgment obviously handed down by people who had not seen the film. Sure, the film is funny and exciting. It's filled with likeable characters and it shows people enjoying their drugs of choice, but these are more symptoms of a well-made film than glorification of drug-use. Scenes of withdrawal, overdosing and death are portrayed with such a level of abject horror that I find it difficult to believe that someone watching the film would say to themselves "Gee, that looks likes the kind of thing I'd like to be doing with my life."

The film's main character, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor), is trying to quit heroin, but is constantly torn between the complete misery he feels when off it and his euphoria while on it. Compounding the problem is that he is surrounded by other addicts, including his mother ("Who is, in her own domestic and socially acceptable way [Valium] is also a drug addict."). Whether it's heroin, alcohol, money, rage, sex or whatever, nearly everyone in the film is an addict, compelled to consume; a trait that the film shares with many zombie films - just substitute the zombies with junkies. In all reality, Trainspotting is a film less about drugs than it is about addiction in general (the title refers to people who compulsively catalog the information of passing trains), which may be why Miramax's description of the film on the back of the case makes it sound like a Guy Ritchie film, with a group of friends planning the "ultimate scam," (which doesn't really happen), blah, blah. It's completely misleading to someone who may know nothing about the film, but it's also somewhat telling as far as what the film is really about. A non-message oriented drug film is a relatively easy sell; an addiction film is much more difficult.

Trainspotting really is a film that could have fallen flat on its ass. The book (by Irvine Welsh, who also appears briefly in the film as Mikey Forrester) is a dense, highly stylized text filled with scenes that I never would have imagined the filmmakers being able to get on film (Spud's 'morning after' scene for example). Even though Boyle managed to cram a great deal of the novel into the film, it is perhaps what he changed and left out that really makes the film come into its own. Scenes are reshuffled, a single narrative voice is invested in the Renton character, some plots are simplified (especially the way AIDS is dealt with, and the Tommy character is really an amalgam of several characters in the book), all of which tighten the film up, but the flavor of the novel is never lost. The propulsive energy of the film cannot be ignored, and I'm not just talking about rapid-fire, hundred cuts per second editing (although it's there at times). Boyle never tries to solidify Trainspotting in any kind of hard-nosed reality, nor does he turn the film into one long visual metaphor for a drug trip. Instead, the film is constructed in an extremely fluid manner. The camera moves anywhere at will, characters enter from the top of the screen (speaking directly to the camera, but not truly breaking the fourth wall), there are jump-cuts and freeze-frames, filthy city apartments are contrasted with pristine rural landscapes - it's all very dream-like, but tied more to the emotions of the characters that to any kind of drug experience. Along with the top-notch adaptation and extreme style, the film also boasts a host of impressive performance across the board. McGregor and Carlyle have taken much of the glory, but Ewan Bremner's Spud is still the most impressive performance, in all its mumbling, woozy and twitching glory. The acting manages to keep the film grounded in an emotional reality, which is no easy task, and lifts the film well above a simple exercise in style.

This is the second release of Trainspotting on DVD by Miramax, and I'm happy to say that it's well worth the upgrade. On the technical side, things have been overhauled quite considerably. The anamorphic widescreen image here puts the previous home video releases to shame. Miramax's first release was a non-anamorphic transfer, most likely the same one that was used for Criterion's laserdisc edition. While it wasn't a bad transfer by any means, it just can't compare to this new one, which boasts stronger colors and contrast, and a much sharper and more detailed image. I saw no major compression problems and most of the minor dirt that was found on the previous transfer has been cleaned up. The audio on this disc is slightly less overhauled (you get a strong Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix and an even punchier DTS 5.1 track, which is a nice addition), although this is the original European cut of the film with the original soundtrack in place (the film was re-dubbed in several places to make it 'easier' for American audiences to understand - how successful this was is questionable).

Sweetening the deal even further is a substantial amount of extras, most of which are actually worth checking out. First and foremost, this is the original director's cut. There isn't a huge difference between the two versions (essentially a couple of seconds and the already mentioned audio changes), but it's good to see that Miramax is releasing the original version they wanted changed in the first place. Available on Disc One is a commentary track with Boyle, McGregor, producer Andrew MacDonald and screenwriter John Hodge. This is the same commentary that appeared on the Criterion laserdisc and it's still an entertaining listen, filled with detail on the adaptation and shooting of the film. Above all, it's not overly bogged down with jargon and it makes a nice addition. Next up are some deleted scenes with commentary (also ported over from the Criterion disc). Most are the expected throwaways, although two scenes that deal with the fate of Swanney are intriguing omissions.

Disc Two is where the bulk of the extra material can be found. To start, there's a section entitled Retrospective, which is essentially a collection of interviews, new and old, with the filmmakers. Most interesting are the brief interview with Irvine Welsh (found in the Interviews section), and the exploration of the film's design (The Look of the Film: Then & Now) which cover the photographic inspiration for the production design and cinematography, as well as Welsh's feelings about his novel being adapted and his views on acting. There's also information on the sound design (The Sound of The Film: Then & Now), which mostly covers the music in the film and doesn't bring a whole lot to the table. You'll also find a section entitled Behind the Needle which is a multi-angle featurette exploring the use of prosthetics for an injection scene. All together it runs about an hour, and it's mostly decent material (and nothing awful), especially the Interview and Look sections. The next section, Cannes, is a collection of brief reactions to the film from the festival, complete with interviews, party footage, etc. It's not very deep and runs only about seven minutes in all, but it serves its purpose. Two trailers make up the next section, Trailers, including the teaser, which is amusing and a very nice addition (it's also composed of entirely unique footage). Both trailers are in pretty poor shape though, which is a shame, but is not entirely surprising. Next up is a ten-minute quickie featurette entitled The Making of Trainspotting, which is typical promotional fluff, re-hashing most of the material covered in the much more satisfying Retrospective section. Rounding out the extras are biographies for the principal cast and crew, as well as a gallery of Polaroids.

Miramax has done well with this new edition of Trainspotting, which is a substantial improvement over their previous disc. Everything has been overhauled on this collector's edition, and it's absolutely worth the price to upgrade for the new anamorphic picture and sound alone. A top-notch commentary track and some decent supplements on Disc Two sweeten the deal further. If you're a fan, you should own this. It's really a no brainer.

Rob Hale
robhale@thedigitalbits.com


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