When Trainspotting (1996) first arrived, it seemed to form a key part of the matrix of British pop culture at a period when – what with Britpop, Brit Art and Cool Britannia – things were seriously looking up. For one thing, it had been a good while since a home-made film was marketed with such gusto, and that attitude seems to have stayed with the film since. After the top-selling soundtrack came a second soundtrack volume. After the video release came a follow-up ‘special edition’, boasting extra scenes. And now the standard DVD release is joined on the shelves by a two-disc ‘ultimate edition’, passing itself off as the last word in having the film in your own home. Until, presumably, the three-disc box-set comes out.
Does Trainspotting deserve to be celebrated so relentlessly? Well, why not: it’s a formidable piece of work. It has enormous vigour and originality. It’s unlikely film historians of the future will be seeking out Bend It Like Beckham (2002) to see what turn-of-the-millennium Britain was really like, and it’s heartening to know our modern times can be documented so effectively, so evocatively. Although provocative, it deftly avoids glamorizing its subjects’ plight. Danny Boyle’s armoury of stylistic touches – a pop soundtrack, freeze frames, interludes, freewheeling editing – may owe much to American cinema (specifically, Scorsese) but it’s irresistible in its attempts to blend those elements into a new, resolutely British whole. Despite grumblings that it was overrated on release, it remains extremely engaging and watchable. It’s not for nothing that the members of the talented cast headed off to forge impressive individual careers.
But for all that, watching the hefty array of interviews and retrospectives here leaves the viewer with a sinking feeling. It’s naïve to suggest that Trainspotting promised a new dawn in British filmmaking which never came to pass, but at the very least it left viewers excited about what ‘the Trainspotting team’ – Boyle, his producer Andrew Macdonald, and writer John Hodge – might do next: the answer being, thus far, nothing remotely as good. As such, the pleasures of seeing insights here into exactly how much thought and effort went into making the film turn into dark thoughts as to how the same creative team went on to make The Beach (2000); and just try contrasting the invention and flair on show in Trainspotting with the feeble recycling of second-hand ideas that was 28 Days Later (2002). In some ways it seems the mantle of ‘promising British filmmaker’ has been quietly filched by Michael Winterbottom, who made his own hymn to vibrant youth culture in 24 Hour Party People (2002): and now, tellingly, Danny Boyle’s working with Frank Cottrell Boyce, Winterbottom’s regular scriptwriter.
For the terminally restless, there’s a handful of hidden features on this package, one of which sees Boyle, Hodge and Macdonald discussing their plans to reunite the original cast to film Irvine Welsh’s follow-up novel, Porno. But rumours are circulating that Ewan McGregor’s already turned the project down, which may be due to ill-feeling dating back to his ejection from the lead role in The Beach in favour of Leonardo DiCaprio. Indeed, McGregor has no new involvement with this release, and every mention of him on the package seems tempered with the vague sadness of old friends who’ve drifted apart. All in all, the achievement of the film itself stands up well here, and the associated extras are a pretty exhaustive insight into its making, but it’s all suffused by a sense of nostalgia for a brief golden age sadly gone. By all means, savour the effort that’s gone into this, but be prepared to experience the cinematic equivalent of watching a happy couple’s old wedding video once they’ve spilt up.