I’ve never understood why anyone thinks that “Trainspotting” glorifies drug use. If your idea of a good time is sticking your hands into the filthiest toilet in Scotland, or seeing a baby dead from neglect, or watching a formerly clean-cut guy destroy his life with heroin, then, yeah, I guess you’re one of those idiots who thinks drug addiction is great. In “Trainspotting,” though, even the resident alcoholic is a psychopath; keep that in mind as you watch it.
Actually, I’ve always seen the film as a modern day “Catcher in the Rye,” with Ewan McGregor’s Renton a Scottish Holden Caulfield unhappy with the “shite” that swirls around him but struggling to figure out what to do about it. While Caulfield wasn’t hooked on drugs, it seems to me that the bigger monkeys on Renton’s back are his so-called friends, who continue to wreak havoc in his life even after he cleans up and moves to London to get a job.
In that respect, you can draw parallels between “Trainspotting” and “Catcher in the Rye.” Certainly, Renton’s disaffected “Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career.” rant at the beginning of the film touches on the same themes as Caulfield’s “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born … and all that David Copperfield crap,” which leads off Salinger’s book. Both reject conventional society even though you know they want to be part of it; they just want to join on their own terms, and not feel like they did so because of societal pressures. By the end, both resolve that conflict in a way that satisfies them, even if it doesn’t satisfy you.
You probably know the full “Trainspotting” plot if you’re reading this review, but if you haven’t seen the film yet, all I can say is go rent it now. In fact, I’d go further and recommend that you simply buy this DVD sight-unseen. Unlike the first, half-baked version of this film released on DVD, the Collector’s Series edition features two discs of delicious “Trainspotting” goodness, complete with a port of the commentaries found on the original Criterion laserdisc as well as oodles of new stuff.
Disc one contains the “uncut international version” of the film. I haven’t seen “Trainspotting” since it was first released in theaters, so I honestly don’t know what’s been added back in. Everything seems intact and nothing strikes me as new, but I do know that a few seconds of sexual and drug content were snipped when the film was distributed in the U.S., so I suppose that’s where people in Europe had an edge over us Puritanical State-side folks. This disc contains the feature-length commentary with McGregor, producer Andrew Macdonald, screenwriter John Hodge, and director Danny Boyle; the four of them also pipe up during the commentaries for the nine deleted scenes, which are also included on disc one. Like most of the commentaries originally solicited by Criterion (“Brazil” is another great one that comes to mind), these tracks are packed with plenty of great insights into the making of the film and why it became so popular.
While the deleted scenes aren’t in very good shape, they are interesting to watch as they all reveal little bits of character that were cut simply because they distracted from Renton’s story, which is the core of the film. The scenes that show Swanney’s fate are particularly intriguing because his character is probably the most unheralded of the core group in the film, and of course Peter Mullan is an excellent actor. While Swanney isn’t as over-the-top as the other characters are, he’s no less pathetic, and it’s sad to see what becomes of him in the deleted scenes. Like Renton, he’s no dummy (unlike their idiot friends), but unlike Renton, he doesn’t have enough common sense to figure out how to escape his dead-end life.
Disc two contains the bulk of the remaining extras, which cover interviews shot during the film’s production as well as more recently. I like that approach because it allows you to hear the participants’ thoughts during the making of the movie and after they’d had enough time to digest its impact on pop culture, which is a nice contrast. The disc’s main menu is broken into six categories: Retrospective, Cannes, Trailers, The Making of “Trainspotting,” Biographies, and Gallery.
Retrospective covers The Look of the Film, The Sound of the Film, Interviews, and a multi-angle micro-featurette called Behind the Needle. The first two offer brief interview clips titled Then and Now, which discuss the film’s production and sound design both during its making and during interviews shot in February 2003. The Interviews section features Q&As with Hodge, Boyle, Andrew Macdonald, and novelist Irvine Welsh, who wrote the book upon which the film was based and who actually has a bit part in it. They all run varying lengths—between four and 15 minutes—and offer much of the same discussion found in the commentary. After watching them, I thought it was a bummer Welsh wasn’t involved in the feature-length commentary, as it would have been interesting to hear him discuss the differences between the book, which is apparently more like a series of short stories starring the same characters, and the film, which wisely chooses Renton as its lead and pulls the narrative thread through him.
Finally, Behind the Needle kicks off by showing McGregor talking about the Calton Athletic Boys, a soccer team who make an appearance at the beginning of the film and whose experiences with heroin addiction were used to inform the actors’ preparation for their roles. For some reason, the DVD producer decided this should be a multi-angle segment showing how the close-up of the needle going into Renton’s arm was done. Angle one is a split-screen with footage of the prosthetic filming on one side and Boyle’s discussion of it on the other; angle two shows Boyle sitting on a chair while watching the video on a TV; and angle three simply shows the footage with Boyle’s narration over it. I’m not sure what the point is, as you get the same effect no matter which angle you watch. If you enjoy seeing the curtain drawn back on effects shots, however, this is an instructive piece of information.
The Cannes section, meanwhile, takes us back to that film festival in 1996 and shows us Martin Landau, Noel Gallagher from Oasis, Damon Albarn from Blur, and Ewan McGregor talking about the movie. They’re all very brief snippets, as is the Cannes Snapshot that offers two minutes of footage from the party during the “Trainspotting” screening (the film wasn’t entered in competition that year but was shown late one night). The Trailers area serves up the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers, of course, while The Making of “Trainspotting” is a ten-minute EPK-style piece shot when the film was in production. The latter doesn’t offer much that the commentaries and other interviews don’t cover, but it’s still nice for fans of the film who want everything.
Finally, as you might guess, Biographies features text bios of the main participants in the film, including its screenwriter, director, and producer, while the Gallery is a five-minute video of Polaroids shot of the extras and crew. And with that we cap off a DVD release that’s a must-have for any “Trainspotting” fan. Hell, even if you haven’t seen the film, pick this up and give it a try, sight-unseen; you must be intrigued by it if you made it all the way through this review.