Trainspotting – The Criterion Collection (4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

One of the best films of 90s British cinema, let alone the 90s in general, Danny Boyle’s sophomore effort, Trainspotting, is a well-respected cult classic for good reason. Along with helping break out Ewan McGregor (among others), this film has a terrific sense of style and kinetic energy that would define much of Boyle’s career while also capturing modern life for a particular generation. Seeing the Criterion Collection put out a 4K UHD release of the film brings me great joy, as it is a favorite of mine and can ideally inspire many to once again choose life, or at least choose 4K Blu.




It’s always notable how synonymous this film is with the 90s, given how author Irvine Welsh’s original 1993 novel is explicitly set in the 80s, but it’s no matter. This is the story of a group of heroin addicts living in Scotland. We primarily focus on Mark “Rent Boy” Renton (McGregor), who narrates the film, speaking about everything going on with his life and friends. The film is less about plot than it is the lifestyle being lived. Still, there’s an attempt by Renton to get clean, which has mixed results but also leads to new developments in his life that will alter the trajectory of where things are going for him.

McGregor is terrific in this film. Gaunt and with a shaved head, despite the self-harm involving drugs, he has a level of charisma that is so fitting for what we see. With that in mind, there’s a collection of characters to enjoy here, whether it’s the bumbling Spud (Ewen Bremner), the treacherous Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), the incredibly innocent Tommy (Kevin McKidd), or the psychopathic Begbie (Robert Carlyle). Kelly Macdonald, making her feature debut, also becomes a notable supporting character as the underage teen Renton ends up sharing a connection with.

This whole cast is inspired, and there are reasons to latch on to any of them. Aside from McGregor, Carlyle is especially notable as the man is scary. He’s not even a drug user, but the danger he represents is captured so incredibly well whenever he enters the frame. That said, his role also speaks to how darkly funny this movie is, as many moments involving violence have the right sort of menace that keeps you entirely engaged with his antics. Outside of Begbie, given all the time we spend hanging out with these characters, other comedy moments occur, and a sense of fun permeates throughout.


Yes, there’s tragedy that comes from the effects heroin has on these characters, but it’s a credit to Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge that the film knows how to balance the presentation of why these characters would choose this drug, along with the consequences. We see Renton and the others on top of their world at certain points but also deal with some horrible situations that range from gross bits involving how/where one relieves oneself to actual death, complete with nightmare imagery to provoke those coping with it.

Looking at how the story evolves, the film also has plenty of thoughts it wants to express concerning Scotland, England, the days of Thatcher’s government, and other aspects once again captured through the narration, the direction Renton takes with his life, and general observations reflected by the film’s visual choices. While I am American and cannot entirely relate to everything Boyle and his team are attempting to convey, it’s pretty clear there are some biting ideas on this movie’s mind, which easily lines up with the sort of edginess that came from late 80s/90s people in their 20s and their response to what’s around them.

As noted, Boyle goes heavy on the visuals, which has always been a strong draw for this film. A lot is packed into this 90-minute flick between the editing and cinematography. Yet, it’s never overwhelming or too little to leave the appropriate impact. Instead, there’s the spark here that feels akin to those challenging the norm during this period (Pulp Fiction being an obvious American example). It’s not a wonder that Miramax would want to scoop this film up, even with the choice to dub some of the film to shield American viewers from the heavy Scottish slang.


Along with style, the film’s soundtrack was quite a big deal at the time and remains an impressive assortment of techno, house, and Britpop music. Hearing everything from Lou Reed to Iggy Pop to Underworld held such meaning for those who truly related to the attitude of Trainspotting when it initially came out. At the same time, it’s also just a great listen when considering the assemblage of all these tracks on two volumes’ worth of albums.

I revisit Trainspotting every so often because of how accessible it feels. Even with its darker elements, there’s a vibe that allows the film to be consistently entertaining. It’s never lost what makes it so special, which is enough to make it a 90s favorite for many, let alone an Oscar-nominated feature (screenplay), and one held in high regard by the British Film Institute, among other critics and organizations. Its popularity and Boyle’s continued interest even led to everyone reuniting for the sequel, T2: Trainspotting, which was quite strong, all things considered. Regardless, this original spin through this specific moment in time continues to play as a high-energy display of wit, tragedy, and style in a manner that solidified so much for all involved.



Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 2160p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10

Layers: BD-100

Details:  This new digital transfer was created from the 35 mm original camera negative, which was scanned in 4K resolution. The feature is presented in Dolby Vision HDR on the 4K UHD disc and HD SDR on the Blu-ray.

Clarity/Detail:  This uncut version of Trainspotting has arrived with a new restoration supervised by Boyle, a man who knows what he wants his movies to look like, and it has paid off incredibly well. Once again showing just how much 4K improves these films that have been released over and over on Blu-ray, here we have a regraded approach that highlights many of the details to be found in the production and costume design quite well. For a low-budget film, Boyle’s sense of style is in top form. This presentation provides plenty of clarity in the deliberate choices being made throughout.

Depth: The “Perfect Day” sequence in which Renton sinks into the floor is an excellent example of how this film displays a great sense of spacing and dimensionality. Depth is strong here.

Black Levels: A proper 4K transfer wins again when considering the strength in the black levels. Given the shadow work that comes into play, along with some nightclub scenes, a variety of darker moments fare very well when considering the presentation of Blacks. Plus, no sign of crushing.

Color Reproduction: Here, we arrive at another scenario where people with a burned-in version of what this film looks like based on the cult following it has gained through so many home releases vs. what the actual filmmaker’s preferences are will come into play. That said, no one will deny how well primary colors pop in this. Many great set designs convey a certain feeling based on these color schemes, which come through wonderfully. Because of the regrading, areas set outdoors, for instance, may not have a different feel than before, which, again, is by design, and just judging the job done, it is supported by a great handle on delivering these sorts of changes.

Flesh Tones: We see many faces that create a vast range of pale skin tones and textures to do justice for, and this disc does not disappoint.

Noise/Artifacts: The film looks nice and clean, with no issues in sight.


Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Subtitles: English SDH

Details: The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered from a Dolby Stereo print master. The booklet notes to enable Dolby Pro Logic decoding on your receiver to properly play the Dolby 2.0 surround soundtrack. The Dolby 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered from the original six-track magnetic masters by Ted Hall at the Pacific Ocean Post in Santa Monica, CA, in 1997.

Dynamics: Having a remastered version of the 2.0 track is nice. That said, given how soundtrack-focused I can get when watching Trainspotting, a lossless 5.1 track really does a wonder on taking in this film’s audio presentation, which is terrific in that format.

Low-Frequency Extension: As noted, the music choices, which feature a lot of bass-heavy house and techno, means the sub-woofer gets a great workout, which serves the film very well.

Surround Sound Presentation: There’s a great sense of place thanks to how well the audio is spread around. Center-focused, of course, but the various channels allow some weight to be felt in how the film is constructed from this perspective.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone and their accents are heard loud and clear.


This is not the first rodeo for Trainspotting on Blu-ray, as the film was released on LaserDisc back in 1996. As such, between that and subsequent DVD/Blu-ray releases, many special features have been produced over the years. So, in terms of what can be found on this Blu-ray disc, there are a couple of new featurettes alongside the previously released commentary, documentaries covering the making of the film, and a retrospective, in addition to deleted scenes and more (the 4K disc only features the commentary). Also, this foldout packaging glows in the dark!

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary featuring Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, screenwriter John Hodge, and actor Ewan McGregor – A great listen, as there’s a lot of fun shared between these friends as they approach their thoughts on making the film and recall numerous stories and humorous bits that go along with it.
  • Designing (HD, 19:11) – In this new interview, costume designer Rachael Fleming and production designer Kave Quinn discuss their process for designing the sets and visual appearance of the film, along with stories regarding the costumes and more.
  • Listening (HD, 12:00) – This program features Iggy Pop, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Neil Barnes of Leftfield, and Rick Smith & Karl Hyde of Underworld – as well as Noel Gallagher, reflecting on the music of Trainspotting’s hit soundtrack.
  • Off the Rails: The Making of ‘Trainspotting’: (SD, 45:36) – A documentary featuring a collection of interviews with the cast and crew covering plenty of aspects regarding the making of the film. Obviously, everyone looks so young!
  • Memories of Trainspotting (HD, 45:48) – This 2008 documentary features Boyle, Macdonald, Hodge, and the cast recalling their work on the film, the challenges scene during production, thoughts on the reaction to the film, and more.
  • Deleted Scenes (SD, 10:32) – Complete with optional commentary.
  • Teaser Trailer (HD, 1:11)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:06)
  • Reading (HD, 2:34) – Some test reads from McGregor originally done for the Criterion LaserDisc.
  • PLUS – Essays by critic Graham Fuller and author Irvine Welsh, and Welsh’s glossary of terms from the novel.


Trainspotting is a modern classic. It captures a specific time and place, yet feels fairly timeless in how we understand the characters, their observations, their freedom, and their crises. McGregor leads a brilliant cast, and Boyle solidifies himself as a director with a stylish vision that doesn’t subtract from the substance of his movies. This 4K presentation is terrific from both an audio and visual standpoint, with a robust collection of extras that really round out what to take away from this movie. This movie has a strong following, and they should be inclined to pick up this latest release, along with anyone else looking for some terrific British cinema.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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