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Watership Down

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 92 minutes

Written For The Screen by: Martin Rosen
Based upon the novel by: Richard Adams

Directed by: Martin Rosen

 

Studio: Warner Bros.

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Cast and Crew, Richard Adams, Watership Down Today, Bunny Talk, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (28 Scenes)

Released: March 26th, 2002

 

 

When you think of animation, you pretty much think of Disney or those in the past who've tried to claim a stake in their own empire. While they are getting a run for their money currently thanks to computer animated films, in the past other studios failed to make a mark with their 2-D films. Still, I'd like to think of "Watership Down" as a film that didn't go out to try and compete with Disney, almost kind of like an indepedent animated film. When we think of animated films, we think of fairy tales, music, loveable characters and a lot of happiness mixed in with dark conflict. Here, "Watership Down" is kinda like the anit-Disney film. Yes it has that dark conflict, but that's what drives the story. The animation is drab and the feelings that emerge from it are that way as well.

"Watership Down" tells the story of a prophecy of doom that is foretold that happens to threaten a group of rabbits' lives living in England. With the news, a group of rabbits leave their warren without permission and seek a better life. The few rabbits, Fiver, Blackberry, Hazel and Bigwig face many dangers along the way in order to secure their new life away.

"Watership Down" is not a film for children, and while I have not read Richard Adams's novel, I have heard a lot about it (and no matter how cute you think rabbits may be, his book wasn't intended for young people either). This movie is rated PG for a reason. The themes in this movie, the morals on life and death and the whole context may go over a lot of young heads, but in the end, it's quite a dark movie.

While I did hear of the book, it wasn't until recently I was aware there was a film version. I know a lot about film and a lot about animated films, so I was pretty surprised that I had no idea about this adaption. Quite simply, I'm rather puzzled why no one notices this film. From reviews I've read, I think it's incredibly underrated and deserves to be noticed a lot more, even if it's from the late 1970's. There's a lot to like about this movie. While the book had its mark on readers and is pretty popular, I'm sure adults are quick to groan just by hearing the premise thinking it's something cutesy for kids. It's not. Given the material, it's aimed for them. This is a very solid, beautifully composed and wonderful movie.

What makes "Watership Down" so wonderful is that is truly realizes itself and is able to parallel our own world in many ways. Even if the characters are animals, there is no doubt that anyone who reads the book or sees this movie can identify with the situations and characters it features. Yes, the viewpoint is from rabbits but by the end of the movie, I personally thought I just saw something on human nature and life, only to realize that this film is all about animals and their plights. There is a lot to say about good and evil, life, death and following our dreams. As much as this film could work for kids, I think it's really meant and geared toward a more mature audience. There is real emotion and real identification to be found here that is so extradoniary and so beautiful.

Martin Rosen adapted the film and directed it, and his work here is quite impressive. While a "Watership Down" television series surfaced in 1999 and he was a producer on that, he has not done any other work since the late 1980s (I wonder why this is). This is surely an impressive debut, as he truly captures a lot here with the concepts, the themes and the characters. Again, I haven't read the book, but after watching the movie, I'm going to pick up a copy and check it out. He crafts the story and structure at a wonderful pace, getting across many points in such a submersive and interesting manner.

The animation is not like Disney at all... and perhaps that's a good thing. Yes, the animation is a bit harsh at times and perhaps flat, let alone jerky, yet it works since this is a rather dark story. The color scheme is a bit uninspired mostly, but that's okay. The story counts the most. Art Garfunkel sings "Bright Eyes" (the song was written by Mike Batt) which is a nice treat, while the voice actors bring a nice touch overall to such a human story. If you've never seen it, be it you like animation or not, go check out "Watership Down." You'll be in for a nice surprise.... and then spread the word.

 

Warner usually supports animated and family film titles with full frame only... but here, there's only 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. Maybe they realize it's also for adults? Anywho, the transfer here is pretty good but does show its age. Colors are pretty well saturated, as the greens of the fields, the browns of the forests and more are captured here is a rather decent but strong manner. Still, the transfer is a bit grainy, rather softy and incredibly fuzzy throughout. Scratches, pieces of dirt, blemishes and more are all over the print throughout making for a distracting experience. Still, it looks decent considering the age of the movie. I just wish it was cleaned up a bit more.

 

Presented in English Mono and French Mono, there's not much to say about "Watership Down" since each mono track is rather straightforward. However, I was surprised how good the mono did sound and hold up for a film that has not been remixed and is over twenty years old. Fidelity is actually rather high. Dialogue is crisp and easy to hear throughout, while I didn't notice any sort of distortions. Background noises in the field (such as the wind and birds chirping) and the more violent sounds pack their punch quite nicely. This felt rather fresh actually and while it's not too impressive, it was a lot better than I expected. Also included are English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Portuguese Subtitles and English Closed Captions.

 

There's some interesting stuff here, even if the majority of the supplements here are all text based. But they fit with the film quite nicely. There is a simple Cast and Crew listing, background information on author Richard Adams, info on the real Watership Down Today, a Bunny Talk glossary and a lengthy if not creepy Theatrical Trailer in anamorphic widescreen.

 

An underrated animated classic for sure, I found "Watership Down" so impressive and enthralling that it's going to get me to read the book for sure now. This DVD has a decent presentation and fine supplements that give more insight on the source material, but I wish there was something more overall. Still, this is a must see film for adults and mature kids alike. Very well made with strong themes and characters, this is a must watch and I hope in the future more people take notice of such a well made gem.