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Blu-ray Reviews

Shallow Grave Blu-ray Review

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#1 of 2 Matt Hough

Matt Hough

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Posted June 05 2012 - 09:48 AM

There’s a cold and clammy tone that infuses Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave from beginning to end, and that’s part of what makes it unique. Not interested in presenting necessarily appealing characters but rather intent on showing uneasy friendships that splinter into anger, jealousy, and near madness, Shallow Grave will linger in the memory long after the final credits roll. It’s a hard-edged, brittle black comedy of the inkiest variety.


Shallow Grave (Blu-ray)
Directed by Danny Boyle

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1994
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround English
Subtitles:  SDH

Region: A
MSRP: $ 39.95

Release Date: June 12, 2012

Review Date: June 5, 2012

The Film


Three professionals in Edinburgh share a spacious flat and are on the lookout for just the right roommate. David (Christopher Eccleston) is an accountant, Alex (Ewan McGregor) is a tabloid journalist, and Juliet (Kerry Fox) is a doctor. After numerous rejections, they welcome Hugo (Keith Allen) who claims to be a novelist, but after locking himself into his room and not being seen by any of his flat mates for a few days, Hugo is found dead in his bed from a drug overdose and with a suitcase under his bed containing hundreds of thousands of pounds. The three roomies decide to keep the money and cut up Hugo’s body so it can’t be identified, but Hugo’s confederates in the robbery are hot on the trail of their loot, and it’s bringing the two hoods right to the front door of the friends’ flat. This is only the beginning of a dark, twisting road for the three now uneasy friends.

John Hodge’s screenplay wastes no time making any of the characters sympathetic (they’re very cruel to prospective roommates who are nerdy or eccentric), and during the course of the movie, we may laugh with them at some of their pranks and relish their spiky camaraderie, but there is always an undercurrent of tension among the trio (some of it is sexual but more often it’s a niggling lack of respect), and it’s clear their friendship isn’t destined to last, especially once money enters the picture. Director Danny Boyle shoots a couple of masterfully suspenseful sequences cross-cutting between the trio at work or at home and the two thugs on the lookout for their money killing or hurting a succession of people on their way to finding it. Boyle doesn’t wallow in the violence (the body dismemberments are done in thickets in the middle of the night), but he doesn’t shy away from it when the time has come for its appearance at the climax of the film. He also displays lots of interesting camera placements loving shots that peer down from above or up from the floor and frames one stunning shot in an attic with light streaming up through spy holes that is simply breathtaking.

This was Ewan McGregor’s first starring role in a film, and it certainly shows a star in the making. His Alex is the troublemaker of the bunch, a bad boy who lets drink sometimes get the best of him, and McGregor plays him with that devilish twinkle in his eye that’s his trademark. Christopher Eccleston plays David as a brooding bundle of nerves and neuroses, the most mentally unbalanced of the trio which he captures beautifully with odd body language and those piercing blue eyes that look right through the others. Kerry Fox was the most well known of the three leads at the time, but her doctor is the most well adjusted one of the group and thus the least interesting. Ken Stott plays the low key Inspector McCall with a knowing eye to guilty parties when he sees them, and screenwriter John Hodge amusingly plays his associate Constable Mitchell as a rather brainless boob without an original idea in his head.

Video Quality


The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Apart from a few out of focus shots and black levels which don’t plumb the depths of inkiness, the transfer is beautifully realized. Contrast is always superb and sharpness is nearly as good with loads of details to be seen in faces and clothes. Color saturation throughout is spot-on but never overdone. Flesh tones are natural if occasionally pinkish. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.

Audio Quality


The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 surround sound mix gives this inexpensively produced movie (£1 million) an impressive aural intensity. Dialogue has been studiously recorded and is always completely discernible (the light Scottish brogues are never a problem). Simon Boswell’s music is pitched just right and is never overpowering. Sound effects prove well placed and accurate to match the on-screen action. It’s a very strong audio track.

Special Features


There are two audio commentaries. The better of the two is provided by director Danny Boyle. Recorded in 2009, Boyle’s enthusiasm for the film is undiminished as he remembers much about the casting and filming that make it the must-listen track on the disc. The second commentary is shared by producer Andrew Macdonald and screenwriter John Hodge. Some of their stories recorded in 2012 certainly repeat what Boyle had said earlier, and there are lapses throughout where no one is talking.

A 2012 interview with the three leading stars of the movie finds Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, and Ewan McGregor discussing their characters, remembering the enormous set and the freezing temperatures in Glasgow during shooting, the film’s theme, and special memories of people and places from a movie that was very important to their careers. It’s in 1080p.

A 1992 video diary by brothers Andrew and Kevin Macdonald is presented. The brothers are at the Edinburgh Film Festival peddling John Hodge’s script to any potential buyers. Among those they talk to are Sam Fuller and Robbie Coltrane in this 9-minute piece presented in 1080i.

Digging Your Own Grave is director Kevin Macdonald’s first film, a documentary on the making of Shallow Grave as he follows his brother around from the Edinburgh Film Festival through production of the movie and its introduction at Cannes. This 29 ¾-minute film is in 1080i.

The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 minutes in 1080p.

A teaser trailer for Trainspotting, the next collaboration between director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge, and star Ewan McGregor, is offered. It runs 1 ¼ minutes in 1080p.

An enclosed pamphlet contains cast and crew lists and an analysis of the movie by film professor Philip Kemp.

The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentaries that go along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.

In Conclusion

4.5/5 (not an average)

The memorable first collaboration between an acting-directing-writing team, Shallow Grave has been called the British answer to the Coen’s Blood Simple, and it’s an apt comparison: an ice cold, bloody black comedy which made stars of its leads and continues to impress almost twenty years after the fact. The Blu-ray from Criterion presents exceptional picture and sound and comes highly recommended.

Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC


#2 of 2 Russell G

Russell G

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Posted June 05 2012 - 10:36 AM

Added to my list of Criterions to buy. Great job!

My wallet cries me to sleep!
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