Trainspotting: Criterion Collection (Ultra HD 4K Blu-ray)

Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out despite the allure of drugs and the influence of friends.

January 22, 2024 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) lives in a rundown section of Edinburgh, where drugs, crime, and violent are widespread. Renton isn’t above these elements however, instead he indulges in them with minimal remorse. His battle with an addiction to heroin has taken a toll on him, but there is no end in sight for the abuse. His friends aren’t supportive either, as they’re just as involved in the dank, hopeless world he lives in. The world around these youths has jobs, hope, and chances to make a better life, but these things are spurned instead of embraced. Renton and his buddies, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), Spud (Ewen Bremner), Tommy (Kevin McKidd), and the ultraviolent Begbie (Robert Carlyle) all choose to live in the darker corners of their town, though Tommy has avoided most of the pitfalls of his friends. Renton also has a girlfriend of sorts, a fourteen year old girl named Diane (Kelly MacDonald), whom he slept with at a wild throw down. But time has worn down Renton and with a future that looks totally dismal, he makes a serious decision. He is going to swear off drugs and start a normal life, no matter what that takes. Of course, he has promised this to himself and others before, with each time ending in failure. But can this time be the real time for Renton to move on, or will he slide back into his old ways?

A movie about delinquents, heroin addiction, and sex with underage girls, eh? Not the kind of movie you’d think would win over audiences and gain critical acclaim, but “Trainspotting” did just that and then some. A modern landmark, the film shocked viewers with dark, graphic images, but didn’t leave them cold. At the same time, critics lauded the writing, direction, and performances, so the movie was a smash on both sides. “Trainspotting” deals with some very dark, depressing topics, such as addiction, death, and total loss of hope. I doubt you’ll relate to the characters, at least I hope you don’t, since none are likable. Some might seem better than others, but no one in “Trainspotting” rises above the level of drug laden derelict. Even so, you’re sucked into the film’s world, as nasty and repulsive as it can be at times. I wouldn’t recommend this to those in search of uplifting cinema, but for fans of hard, dark pictures, this one’s all you. The film does have moments of light, including some hilarious sequences, but even those are often based in darker sources. Like when a wild night of drugs and random sex ends when a character wakes up and realizes he has shit all over himself, at his conquest’s parents’ home. The movie is powerful, no doubt about it and in this new two disc edition, its more worthwhile than ever.

He has become quite a mainstream star in recent times, but before he was so famous, Ewan McGregor was in this film. He had garnered some attention for his previous turns, but he was put on the map by his work in “Trainspotting”. His turn here is hands down the finest of his career, one that holds back nothing and never slows down. The intense highs and lows make this a high difficulty role, but McGregor knocks it out of the park. He has the internal mechanisms on full blast, to bring across emotions and feelings we can’t see in his physical presence, but we know are there, quite impressive indeed. The role requires him to go over the top at times, such as when drug use is involved, but this is still a controlled role. He is also asked to do some bold actions, such as nudity and some lively sex scenes, but he is up to the task. In his more recent efforts, McGregor has fallen into more mainstream pictures, ones that require little of his talent. This is a true shame, as he has a lot to offer, but is often wasted by these simple movies. But even a dozen movies like Big Fish or Down with Love can’t erase his superb turn here, no doubt about it. His other films include Velvet Goldmine, Moulin Rouge, Rogue Trader, and Black Hawk Down.

Video: How does it look?

Having been to Scotland, I can say that it’s not the most picturesque place in the world. My comments are based on my limited time there and let’s just say that I never saw a trace of blue sky. And you won’t either, at least not in this transfer. That’s not to discount Criterion’s efforts or the first hand assistance of director Danny Boyle – they’ve done a lot of improvement to the overall look and feel of the film. The 1.85:1 HEVC 4K offering is, to date, the best the film has ever looked with HDR offering a bit more depth and dimension to the picture. Clarity and detail have been improved as well. With all of these enhancements aside, I still found the image a bit flat. Don’t misread that, it’s still good-looking, but given the film’s budget and the fact that it’s nearly three decades old – modern movies certainly have the advantage.

Audio: How does it sound?

“Trainspotting” reels you into the film within the first few seconds with its alluring soundtrack. The DTS HD Master Audio mix is far and away the best the movie has ever sounded and this soundtrack makes full use of all of your channels. Vocals are strong, though I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a bit hard to tell what some of the actors are actually saying (notably Robert Carlysle’s “Begbie”), though this certainly isn’t a fault of the sound mix. The front stage does take the brunt of the sound, but surrounds are active enough in that you’re in for a good listening experience.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Disc One (4K)

  • Audio Commentary – Originally recorded for the Criterion LaserDisc back in 1996, this carries over to the 4K disc. There’s nothing new and if you’ve already heard it, well…there’s nothing new here. But it’s a nice addition and certainly good to have on this disc.

Disc Two (Blu-ray)

  • Audio Commentary – Same as above.
  • Designing – New to this edition is costume designer Rachael Fleming and production designer Kave Quinn discuss the visual look and appearance of the film.
  • Listening – As the title entails – this is a collection of all of the music heard throughout the film.
  • Memories of Trainspotting – Essentially that. The cast and crew reflect on the film, the casting, what it was like to make it and so forth. While not new, enough time has passed where I think even if it was new, not much would have changed.
  • Off the Rails: The Making of Trainspotting – Again, pretty self-explanatory. The cast and crew as well as director Danny Boyle reflect on the filmmaking process, the general theme and so forth.
  • Deleted Scenes – Nine total, running just over 10 minutes. I’d say the film stood well enough on its own that these weren’t needed.
  • Trailers
  • Reading – This is a new one (not the feature, but the concept), in which we get a few minutes of test reads for Ewan McGregor’s comments for the audio track.
  • Illustrated Booklet – We find Graham Fuller and author Irvine Welsh, Welsh’s glossary of terms as well as some production photos.

The Bottom Line

Trainspotting isn’t, at times, an easy film to watch. It’s rough, direct and bleak all the same time. But it’s good and it’s one of those that stays with you long after the credits run. Criterion’s new 4K offering ups the ante with an improved picture, new supplements and an overall great package.

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