Of the many terribly interesting things touched on in Danny Boyle’s smart and skillful adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s debut novel, Trainspotting, it’s most tempting to contemplate facets that are only mildly developed. There is, for instance, the pointed, oddly chilling, and deeply funny monologue that Renton (Ewan McGregor), the closest thing we’re given to a hero here, delivers in opposition to his straight-arrow friend’s buoyant Scottish nationalism. As Renton barks at Tommy (Kevin McKidd), personal despondency is connected directly to lack of a unique cultural identity, which Renton is quick to connect to Scotland’s muddled placement under the banner of the United Kingdom.
The whole spiel doesn’t quite account for the astounding amount of heroin Renton and his cronies pump into their corroded veins, attained through various burglaries and scams, but coupled with the dour, decrepit environs of Glasgow and Edinburgh, captured in all its hyperbolic wretchedness by DP Brian Tufano, the need for industrial-strength opiates becomes understandable. If for nothing else, Renton, Spud (Ewen Bremner), and Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) need some horse to account for their social ills, as they are all unemployed, single, and are skilled solely at dispersing random facts about the decline of Sean Connery. Save poor Tommy, they are social degenerates on their best day and Trainspotting, adapted from Welsh’s novel by John Hodge, smartly doesn’t try to hunt too hard for redemption.
As befits the novel, which is actually closer to a short-story collection, the drama of the film derives from fluctuations between living in a smack-induced fever dream and attempts at cold-turkey quitting, finding pitch-black humor, horror, tragedy, and violence in a series of asides and digressions. Many of these involve Begby (a genuinely frightening Robert Carlyle), a ferocious alcoholic who shuns his mates for spiking up, often right before he flies into an epic rage over some minor inconvenience. (This knowledge of how addicts of legal drugs mask their sicknesses by demonizing imbibers of illegal drugs is another fascinating strain that is only marginally explored.) Other diversions include the great Kelly Macdonald as Renton’s underage girlfriend, a bravura detox sequence soundtracked to Underworld’s “Dark and Long,” a climactic change-of-scenery as Renton moves to London and Peter Mullan as a heroin lifer nicknamed “Mother Superior.”
Even Walsh gets in on the action as an intolerable drug-dealing creeper who supplies Renton with suppositories, leading to the film’s most fantastical, grotesque sequence involving a headfirst submergence into a toilet bowl covered and filled with liquid shit. And this is not even considering the family members and significant others that wander in and out of the narrative with only momentary consequence, and among the virtues of Trainspotting is the seemingly effortless way it keeps this full, robust, and consistently surprising social circle in constant movement. Boyle’s brilliant pacing and unwavering sense of motion within the frame is equally important to Hodge’s whip-smart script: For a film based on addiction to a drug that generally renders you immobile, the camera and every character seems in forever fluid motion.
Of course, Boyle’s generous, ingenious, and original take on such dark themes and subject matter was misinterpreted as glorification, most famously by presidential hopeful Bob Dole, who declared it unsuitable without gazing upon a single frame of the picture. Were Mr. Dole to have screened the film, he would have certainly not found anything glorifying about Renton’s detox or, for that matter, the wrenching sequence in which a junkie’s infant’s vomit-encrusted corpse is discovered mid-binge. Indeed, Boyle, now famous for the grossly overpraised Slumdog Millionaire, seemed to be fighting his own battle on screen, between depicting the truly abominable results of such addictions and invoking the rush and sublime release that sparks and maintains addiction. Each shot hits like a bump of coke, making it clear that Boyle’s addiction to the cinematic image, though not dangerous, is as similarly unremitting as Renton’s love affair with the spike.
The problems with Lionsgate's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer largely have to do with the film's budgeted production. Shadow detail, for instance, is passable but nowhere near where it should be; there are also instances of blooming, shimmering, and aliasing, but, to be fair, they're all fleeting. Disregarding these minor problems, there's very little bad to say about the transfer. Colors, especially in the outdoors scenes and the dance club Renton and his mates frequent, are extraordinary and the fine detail is above admirable. This is a large step up from the DVD, and that's even truer of the audio. Trainspotting has a rich sonic landscape and the lossless DTS Master Audio handles it sublimely. We get Renton's voiceover and the dialogue clear and out front while music (Underworld, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed, to name a few), audio effects, and atmosphere create an encompassing background. It gives even a state-of-the-art system a workout, which was not to be expected of a small black comedy, but here we are. Who knew?
Lionsgate has been generous with the extras here, beginning with the very interesting commentary track provided by Danny Boyle, John Hodge, Andrew Macdonald, and Ewan McGregor. All the participants are lively and talk as much about individual moments as they do about the genesis and production of the film. The deleted scenes are largely inconsequential but are, at the very least, fun to watch, especially with Boyle's optional commentary. The meat of the supplemental features is a smattering of shorts, ranging from interviews with the cast and crew to pieces on the film's reception to a look at the setup for the controversial shooting-up scene. It's a lot of stuff and most of it, surprisingly enough, is informative and worth a look. There's a making-of featurette that's essentially an EPK and a set of interviews with people at the screening of the film at Cannes that couldn't be less interesting. A theatrical teaser, a trailer, and a stills gallery are also included.
Time has been exceedingly kind to Danny Boyle's excellent breakthrough film and Lionsgate has done a great job preserving it on Blu-ray.