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Release Date(s)1994 (June 12, 2012)
Studio(s)Film Four International (Criterion - Spine #616)
Shallow Grave is the product of director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge. It became one of the most memorable British films in history and helped launch the careers of actors Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor.
The film was released in 1994 and helped revitalize interest in British cinema, along with Trainspotting (by the same filmmaking team) a couple of years later. It’s a bit of a dark comedy, but is also very serious at the same time, and keeps its characters moving towards oblivion the entire time. It’s basically a story about friendship vs. materialism with the latter eventually winning out. Basically it’s like this: three flat mates in Edinburgh take in a fourth resident and upon discovering his dead body they also discover a suitcase full of money in his room. As they attempt to hang on to the money, their friendship is put to the test after disposing of the body, and having to watch their own backs as each of them are slowly eaten up inside by greed.
All of the actors give terrific performances, and Danny Boyle’s strong direction is very evident. The film seems to be painted with a lot of primary colors, giving it a very stark and beautiful quality. The screw is turned tighter and tighter from scene to scene but it never feels like an actual thriller to me, mainly because of the dark comic undertones. If it didn’t have that, it would probably be a different film. Danny Boyle was, of course, inspired by Hitchcock for the film and it’s very evident, especially in the ending. I didn’t feel as drawn to it or as mesmerized as I would with a Hitchcock film, but I did find it a well-executed and well-acted film that still feels fresh.
For Criterion’s Blu-ray transfer of Shallow Grave, they have utilized the original 35mm camera negative with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. It was also supervised by the film’s cinematographer Brian Tufano, so you’re getting what was intended by the people who made it. It’s a fantastic-looking transfer, with a very even grain structure throughout the presentation. The film’s previous release on DVD featured a very warm-looking presentation, with things much improved here. Skin tones and colors are more accurate and detail is much more abundant. Blacks are very deep and contrast and brightness are virtually perfect. The film’s soundtrack is the original English stereo soundtrack. The film has a very low-key sound design, at least to my ears, so you won’t find it really rocking your speakers. The only time it comes close is during some of the musical numbers that open and close the film. The rest of the soundtrack is still effective. Dialogue is clean and clear, while sound effects and score mix well into the proceedings. As a side note, the film has one of the best and most effective stabbings I’ve ever seen in a film, and the soundtrack worked well there. So overall, it’s a great presentation and definitely an improvement over the previous DVD release. There are also subtitles in English for those who need them.
For the extras, you get quite a bit to dig through. There are two audio commentaries: one by director Danny Boyle and the other by screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald; a brand new interview with actors Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox and Ewan McGregor; the Digging Your Own Grave making-of documentary from 1993 by Kevin Macdonald; Andrew Macdonald and Kevin Macdonald’s 1992 video diary; the film’s theatrical trailer, as well as a teaser for Trainspotting; and finally, a fold-out insert featuring an essay by critic Philip Kemp.
Shallow Grave is a film that moves along at quite a brisk pace and has a lot of memorable images and performances. You can laugh along with it, but also be taken in by the drama of it all. And Criterion’s treatment of it is quite stellar. Very much recommended.
- Tim Salmons