There was a time when an altogether more youthful version of the person writing this review believed that “heroin” meant “really brave lady”, and “smack” was what you got for hitting Rachel Sillett over the head with a broom handle at nursery. Ah, the sweet innocence of youth.
I’ve learnt a lot since then, of course, and it’s just as well because ‘Trainspotting’, Danny Boyle’s classic Brit-flick of the 1990’s, has joined us on Blu-ray, and it’s still packing a punch after all these years.
The novel on which this film is based is a notoriously chaotic affair, with Irvine ‘Porno’ Welsh capturing the life of the ‘90s heroin addict superbly with complicated, intermingling, occasionally rambling narratives woven together into a gloriously messy whole.
It’s probably a good thing, however, that director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge avoided heading down that path when it came to converting said novel for the screen, but that’s not to say that watching this movie isn’t still something of a wacky ride.
We follow Renton (Ewan McGregor), a young Edinburgh junkie, as he attempts to kick his scag habit, negotiating his way precariously through relationships as destructive and screwed up as they are varied, from psychopathic mates and Sean Connery wannabes to underage jailbait girlfriends and London letting agents.
Teetering uncertainly on the tipping point between life and nihilistic self-destruction, Renton and his smacked-up partners in slackery treat us to a high octane hour and a half of highs, lows and general self abuse, the fallout from which provides the bulk of the film’s action.
Truthful yet ambivalent, Boyle shows us the lowest, scummiest underbelly of society behaving exactly as we’d expect in all its putrid, violent, occasionally funny and frequently shocking splendour.
We get some superb performances, most notably from McGregor as the tormented Renton, and Robert Carlyle as the fantastically psychotic Francis Begbie.
Dark, gritty, moving and painfully, painfully honest, Trainspotting is one of the most iconic films of the ’90s, and it’s lost none of it lustre over the past thirteen years.
It could be argued that, visually, Trainspotting is not the sort of movie that needs BR or, at least, it won’t benefit in quite the same way as its glossier American cousins.
There’s a large element of truth to this, of course, because it’s a grotty, manky, shit-stained affair that actually might work better watched on a clapped out 12-inch CRT from the ‘70s. But then you fire it up in your BR player, and you realise that there really is nothing quite like seeing Ewan McGregor crawl down a faeces-coated toilet pan in 42-inch, 1080p HD.
Seriously, though, the main thing to remember when watching a movie of this ilk is that it’s an indie flick. It’s not going to shine in HD like a Hollywood cgi-fest and, despite crunchier blacks and crisper colours than its SD counterpart, the difference just isn’t as noticeable here as on some other BR conversions.
But the truth is that, for this movie at least, it doesn’t matter. Boyle and his DP, Brian Tufano, provide us with the sort of lo-fi visual treatsmanship that, though not exactly designed for the gloss of HD, still benefits from the general beefing-up of the format.
It’s a step closer to the original 35mm print (although, at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, cropped down a bit from its original size), and you can watch it in your living room. For this, at least, we should be exceedingly grateful.
A half-decent fist of things is made here, with Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 to choose from but, disappointingly, no lossless option for those that way inclined.
This is a particular shame when you consider the stellar soundtrack that this movie possesses. It’s a roll call of the sounds of the UK in the 1990’s, featuring Primal Scream, Pulp, Damon Albarn, Elastica, Joy Division and God knows how many other names synonymous with the decade. It’s quite the aural treat, all the better for the surround sound treatment.
Elsewhere in the sound department, it’s crisp, it’s clear, and it’s authentic, and it ticks all vital boxes. Combine this more than competent 5.1 mix with the colossal soundtrack and you’ve got a winner as far as I’m concerned.
It’s like having 1996 poured down a giant ear trumpet directly into the centre of your brain.
And I mean that in a good way.
There’s an amusing (Dutch, I think) cover design for an old video release of this film which features an image of Ewan McGregor with his mouth wide open and the word “F&#K” emblazoned loudly in orange next to his face.
No such luck when it comes to this BR release, however, as we’re treated to nothing more adventurous than the standard cardboard-sleeve-and-box scenario. Usually for me it’s what’s on the actual disc that counts so this isn’t too big a disappointment, really.
Crammed onto the disc you’ll find a fairly meaty haul of extra gubbins, including interviews with key cast and crew (all, sadly, in SD), a pretty interesting half-hour retrospective documentary, as well as a fair few snippets of behind-the-scenes hi-jinks shot way back in ’96.
There’s also the standard deleted scenes selection, feature commentary and a fair few other bits and bobs to keep you busy. It’s an impressive collection and, just about I reckon, worthy of an ‘Ultimate Collector’s Edition’.
I was 13-years-old when this film came out and so never got to see it on the big screen.
I remember the excitement of it emerging on video some months later and watching it at a friend’s house in that typically illicit, “we-shouldn’t-watch-this-because-it’s-got-sex-and-drugs-so-let’s-definitely-bloody-watch-it-and-tell-everyone-about-it-afterwards” way that is so unique to the teenage boy.
Obviously, that particular thrill is absent from subsequent viewings, but I still can’t help but enjoy the sheer open brazenness of this film’s portrayal of drug misuse, and its equally frank portrait of the scummy flipside of the society in which we live.
Some have alleged that this movie in some way glorifies and even promotes excessive, self abusive, self destructive behaviour.
They’re miles off the mark. It’s the ambivalence, the totally non-judgemental stance that Danny Boyle and his cast takes that really makes this movie what it is, and I defy anyone to say otherwise.
Verdict: 4/5 – “BUY”
First published Sep 15, 2009 on BlurayDaily.com