• Watership Down



    Released by: Warner Bros
    Released on: 10/07/08
    Director: Martin Rosen
    Cast: John Hurt, Richard Briers
    Year: 1978

    The Movie:

    Adapted from the novel of the same name by author Richard Adams, Martin Rosen’s Watership Down has remained a cult favorite since it was released in 1978. While it tends to be eclipsed by bigger animated fare (read: Disney and Pixar) in recent years, the movie holds up remarkably well and remains a surprisingly adult movie – which is surprising in that it’s a film geared towards younger audiences that revolves around a bunch of rabbits.

    The movie takes place in the Sandleford Warren where a young male rabbit named Fiver experiences a terrifying premonition of what will happen to his beloved home. He, along with his brother Hazel, try to convince the chief of their community that everyone needs to get out of the area as quickly as possible but their pleas fall on deaf ears and no one will listen to them.

    Knowing better than the rest, Fiver and Hazel decide to head out on their own. They manage to gather up a small, rag-tag group of rabbits to go with them but the majority of their clan stays back and falls victim to military destruction. Now completely on their own, the small group of rabbits have to figure out what to do with themselves while trying to evade larger animals who would eat them and humans who could care less if they live or die. Eventually they find a new home called Watership Down and all seems to be well at first until they find out that their new neighbors, the Efrafa who are lead by the evil General Woundwart, would much rather get rid of them than throw a housewarming party for the new arrivals.

    As epic as they come, Watership Down is pretty heavy stuff. The film sets up its own interesting mythology before getting into the story proper and it’s interesting to see how this all plays together towards the end of the film. At times almost surreal, the picture uses animation wisely, allowing us to see things that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to actually film and we’re all the better for it. You might think it odd that a story that seems so simple on the surface can have such an impact so long after it was made but the cult following that has grown up around the film is there for a reason. This is a very smart, character driven story that is as interesting to absorb as it is beautiful to look at.

    One of those rare pictures where it all ‘comes together,’ Watership Down is an excellent blend of gorgeous animated visuals, talent performances from the cast of voice actors assembled to breath life into the characters, and a genuinely interesting story. As mentioned, the film doesn’t get talked about as often today as it probably should and as such it’s an easy picture to forget about in many ways but once you’ve seen it, it’s certain to stick with you regardless of your age – anyone with an interest in genuinely good films will find much to appreciate here.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Watership Down looks very nice in this anamorphic 1.85.1 widescreen transfer. Some grain and a wee bit of minor print damage pop up from time to time but it’s never bothersome. Color reproduction looks nice and bold without ever feeling over done and the black levels stay strong and rich throughout. There aren’t any problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement to complain about and this thirty year old animated feature looks pretty darn good overall.

    The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track won’t blow you away but it sounds fine. There isn’t a lot of channel separation here but you’ll pick up on it now and then and the levels are well balanced. There aren’t any issues with hiss or distortion and the score sounds nice. Optional French subtitles and English closed captioning are provided for the feature only.

    The first of the three supplements on this disc is Watership Down: A Conversation With The Filmmakers (17:11), a featurette in which Martin Rosen and his editor, Terry Rawlings discuss the making of the picture. While behind the scenes photos and artwork show up on screen the pair talk about what it was like working on the picture, what it was like adapting the novel and how they feel about the movie these many years later.

    After that, check out Defining A Style (12:02) which is a how the team developed the film’s unique animated look. While we get a look at some production art, narration from some of the animators and voice actor Joss Ackland clue us in as to what’s going on and why it matters. This is actually pretty interesting stuff and well worth a look.

    The third and final supplement is the Storyboard Comparison (14:06) in which four scenes are shown in both storyboard and finished versions so that we can see the differences. Some very stylish menus and a chapter selection option are also included though sadly the trailer is absent.

    The Final Word:

    Watership Down holds up remarkably well thirty years since it was made. The animation still looks great and the story never fails to hold our interest. Warner’s new deluxe edition DVD looks and sounds great and while some more extras would have been very welcome, what’s here is good.