Shallow Grave (1994)

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Released 11-Feb-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Black Comedy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer
Audio-Only Track-CD Soundtrack
Trailer-My Beautiful Laundrette; Last Seduction
Trailer-Malcolm; What's Up Tiger Lily?
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 88:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (58:11) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Danny Boyle
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Kerry Fox
Christopher Eccleston
Ewan McGregor
Case Click
RPI $32.95 Music Simon Boswell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    "Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention please. First of all may I thank you all for coming along tonight and supporting our appeal to raise funds for the sick children's unit."

    There was one reason why I volunteered to review Shallow Grave, well, actually two, but the primary reason was Ewan McGregor, whose slick, cool style makes him a joy to watch in any film. It also helps that he doesn't mind getting undressed for the camera, a feature that seems to be missing in a lot of overly proud, self-conscious actors. Not that I really get any enjoyment out of the sole sight of him nude - I just ponder writing a film for him to be in where he gets up and shakes his proverbial at the Queen or Governor-General. The morning of the day I did this review, I actually had quite a nasty hypoglycaemic fit which left me with very sore, unresponsive leg muscles and a feeling in my stomach that made me feel as if my liver had released something in there that it shouldn't have. The reason I mention this is because I thought early on in my trip to get the disc that I would be regretting the journey later, even though it normally only takes less than ten minutes.

    Instead, I was extremely happy that I had made the effort to watch this film, because John Hodge's clever screenplay, Danny Boyle's deft direction, not to mention sublime acting from the three leads, has produced a cracker of a film that certain American directors who think hours of macho posing and four-letter words constitute a crime thriller would do well to take a look at.

    The plot concerns itself with three housemates who happen to be really good friends, these being Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox), David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston), and Alex Law (Ewan McGregor). Juliet works as a psychiatrist at the local hospital, David is an accountant, and most importantly, Alex is a journalist getting his start in a sizeable national newspaper. The three of them are in the process of auditioning new housemates, which they do with a variety of bizarre and puzzling techniques, with Alex even telling potential housemate Cameron (Colin McCredie) that at least their accountant friend here on the lounge makes an effort to be interesting.

    Eventually, they decide upon a man named Hugo (Keith Allen), who seems like a very decent and respectable fellow, plus it helps that he is good for the money that is required. After a few days, however, a certain stench begins emanating from the room that Hugo occupies, and he is unresponsive to any knocking or calls from the others, prompting Alex and David to kick the door in. Of course, one should never trust anyone who can kick in a heavy wooden door without doing any actual structural damage, but more on that in a minute. Anyway, they find Hugo dead in his bed, and upon investigating, they find signs to indicate Hugo died of a drug overdose, as well as a suitcase that is literally full of British Pounds. Clearly, all three are in conflict about what to do with the money, and Alex broaches the idea of disposing of the body themselves. Straws are drawn, and poor David is left with the task of making the corpse unidentifiable, which he does in between fits of vomiting, but this is only where the problems begin.

    Of course, Hugo owed people quite a handsome sum of money, and they want it back. One of the neighbours is murdered, and soon two policemen by the name of McCall (Ken Stott) and Mitchell (a cameo from writer John Hodge) come calling. As the three housemates get more and more paranoid, and two thugs break in looking for their money, only to be dispatched by David, one wonders if anyone is going to get out of this one alive. Suffice it to say that the ending will make you chuckle at its irony, and the rest of the film is done in a very believable, authentic manner that it seems only Europeans are capable of these days. If you liked such films as Trainspotting, or if you thought Single White Female undid itself by being patently unrealistic, then you will do well to check out this effort.

    "You didn't tell me that this was for children. I hate children. I'd raise money to have the little f*ckers put down. I want me money back!"

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Transfer Quality

Video

    When I sit down to look at a transfer done by a major studio, I can take comfort in the fact that they have all the latest transfer equipment and lots of dollars to make a good, or even excellent, transfer with. I say this because The AV Channel are obviously an independent distributor with limited funding, but I really fail to see how anyone could really do that much better. Sure, the transfer is not absolutely perfect, but it is as good as it's going to get for this film, barring an expensive and somewhat unnecessary restoration effort.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

    This is a sharp, crisp, and very detailed transfer that only delves into haziness for the sake of deliberate artistic effects. There is one sequence from 41:00 to 42:04 that was obviously shot on video for artistic reasons (this scene finds two of our heroes watching themselves on television), but that's the only time when anyone could complain about the sharpness. The shadow detail is quite good, with the darker sequences in the film being detailed enough to make sense, and there is no low-level noise.

    The colour scheme in this film shows a very dingy, wasted-looking city that is common in the United Kingdom, as well as some moments when our heroes play a game of squash, where the colours become a little richer. The transfer renders these schemes without any composite artefacts or smearing.

    MPEG artefacts were not noticed in this transfer, which is more than enough justification for the RSDL formatting. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some aliasing that was mostly minor, usually in the rims of eyeglasses, although the squash court shows some more noticeable aliasing at 4:51, as do the lounge at 18:41, the side of a building at 24:17, and a dining table at 73:53. A short burst of telecine wobble was noticed at 6:11 in a shot of the back of a car. While it is brief, it is also very easy to notice. Film artefacts were constant during the first ten minutes of the film, but then they settled down to a more acceptable level, although a lot of them were still quite large.

    There are no subtitles on this disc. This puts not only the Hearing Impaired viewers at a disadvantage, but also those who have problems understanding Scottish accents, like my mother for instance. I would have liked to have at least seen an ordinary English subtitle track.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 11 and 12, at 58:11. This is right after Kerry Fox hands Ewan McGregor a key, and while it sticks out like McGregor does amongst this cast, it is acceptably placed, with not too much interruption to the flow of the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    While the video transfer was impressive, considering that this is a film commissioned and financed from outside of Hollywood, the audio transfer is not quite as impressive. It is interesting to note that, at least according to the Internet Movie Database, the German R2 version has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but the only available language option is German.

    There are two soundtracks on this DVD, although the packaging and the menu claim there is only one. The first, and default, soundtrack is the original English dialogue, in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding at 192 kilobits per second. The second, which can only be accessed via the audio selection function of one's remote, is a French dub in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding at 192 kilobits per second. I listened to a couple of words in the French soundtrack and went back to the English, as a French voice coming from a Scottish mouth just sounds patently absurd.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, unless you have a problem with Scottish accents like my mother. To be fair, she only seems to complain about really broad ones like those in Trainspotting or any particular Billy Connolly film, but I'm sure there are some people who will have a little trouble following Ewan McGregor's speech in particular. I did not notice any audio sync problems, and although I didn't do any kind of scientific test for this, I feel confident that no-one else will, either, unless you try the French dub from beginning to end.

    The music in this film consists of some contemporary numbers that are used to provide a thematic feel in certain scenes, particularly the opening credits, and a score by Simon Boswell. The score music does not make its presence felt in particular, instead hanging around in the background and reinforcing the paranoid, desperate feelings of the characters. I have no strong feelings either way about the score, but some of the contemporary music drove me batty.

    The surround channels are not worked overly hard by this soundtrack, and I fail to recall any instance where I heard any output from them at all, other than the music, leave alone something noteworthy. This is perfectly acceptable since the film was presented in theatres with Dolby SR sound, a matrixed format that basically redirects information from the fronts to the centre and surrounds in order to make the dialogue sound as if it is coming from the screen regardless of the viewer's position. It is a shame that we do not get a discrete remix here, as there are some sound effects such as voice-over narration that would have been a little more immersive if discretely separated into the surrounds.

    The subwoofer was not specifically encoded into the soundtrack, and aside from a few violent moments in the film, it did not receive any redirected signal.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menu is mildly animated with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and it is 16x9 Enhanced. It is a very attractive menu, at that.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies for Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, and director Danny Boyle are presented under a well-designed sub-menu. These bios are actually quite comprehensive and worthwhile reading if you're a fan of any of the people concerned. I find it somewhat amusing that Ewan McGregor has rocketed from third billing in the film's credits to first billing in all of the production notes. It must be his virtual screen immortality from those films that are coming out this year and in 2005.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this trailer again demonstrates the superiority of British film-makers by managing to draw the viewer's interest without giving away too much about the film. In fact, it gives away next to nothing.

Audio-Only Track - CD Soundtrack

   This option, when selected from the Special Features menu, shows graphics featuring the CD cover for the score music, and plays a little piece of said music in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Granted, it is an advertisement, but how many advertisements let you hear an entire musical theme?

Trailers - Umbrella Propaganda

    Four trailers are presented under this menu. Unless otherwise noted, they are all presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. None of them are 16x9 Enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There was a Region 0 version of this DVD released by Polygram, which is of course now out of print, but now there is a Region 1 version by MGM Home Entertainment. As previously mentioned, there is a German version with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, but this is in German and it has no subtitles to boot.

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    Since there do not appear to be any versions available with any kind of English subtitling, I cannot recommend any other version of the disc. Region 4 wins.

Summary

    Shallow Grave was a big, and very pleasant, surprise for me. It contains yet another hilarious performance from Ewan McGregor, and the rest of the cast are no slouches, either. In fact, the only complaint I have about it is that I wished it was about twelve minutes longer (taking into account the PAL speed-up), just to squeeze a few more sick jokes in.

    The video transfer is very good.

    The audio transfer is reasonable.

    The extras are limited, but enough to keep looking at for another half hour or so.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Thursday, March 07, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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