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Martin Rosen
John Hurt, Richard Briers, Michael Graham Cox, John Bennett, Ralph Richardson
Martin Rosen, based on the novel by Richard Adams

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and when they catch you, they will kill you.

Rated PG-13.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 97 min.
Price: $27.96
Release Date: 3/26/2002

• Theatrical Trailer
• Text Production Notes


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Watership Down (1978)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 13, 2008)

Maybe you really canít go home again. Every once in a while I risk the ruination of childhood memories and rewatch favorite flicks from my younger days. Actually, I do that reasonably frequently, but some movies remain exempt from the potential curse. I mean, Iíve seen Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws many times since I was a kid. My opinions are well set, so I donít risk suddenly violating old affection.

However, other films arenít quite so safe. In the past Iíve examined old faves like The Towering Inferno and Jaws 2 with varying results. Some of these hold up pretty well, while others seem much crummier than I recalled.

While I donít know if Iíd call 1978ís Watership Down an actual favorite from my youth, it is a) a flick I enjoyed a lot when I was a kid, and b) a movie Iíve not seen since that time. I also really liked the book, so much so that at this point, I canít distinguish one memory from the other. Do I retain fond thoughts about Down based on the text, the film, or both?

I canít answer that, but based on my recent screening of the movie, I think the strength of the novel influenced my feelings. While the film has its moments and seems like a good piece of work overall, I must admit it didn't bowl me over after all these years.

Watership Down examines the lives of some rabbits who break off from their warren when one of them - an apparently psychic bunny named Fiver (voiced by Richard Briers) - foretells doom. Only Hazel (John Hurt) really believes Fiver, but he recruits some others to accompany them on the search for a new home.

From there, the movie follows their trials and tribulations as they attempt to start anew. The group struggles to find a location for their next home, and when they do succeed in that regard, they need to attract some females so their male-heavy crew can prosper in the long run. Their biggest challenge comes from a rather fascistic local warren headed by General Woundwort (Harry Andrews). They seek domination and donít take well to the intrusion offered by the newcomers. A full-fledged battle eventually ensues, aided by the presence of Bigwig (Michael Graham Cox), a former top officer from their original warren.

While I enjoyed Watership Down, I must admit the film seemed a little thin and flat at times. I donít remember the book tremendously well, but I recalled enough of it to recognize the moderate weakness of the characters. Perhaps I flashed back to the fuller roles found in the text, but I thought the various rabbits didnít come across as terribly well developed personalities. Even significant participants like Hazel and Bigwig appeared sketchy. On one hand, it feels a little silly to criticize the lack of depth found in bunnies, but since Down really functions as a social commentary in the Animal Farm mold, it seems important that the characters appear more substantial than they are.

Overall, Down did well with its allegorical elements, though again, they didnít come across as terribly well developed. The original novel offered a long text, and it was difficult to pack all that into a 90-minute movie. As such, at times Down seemed more like a Cliffís Notes version of the tale. I also could have lived without the flickís occasionally heavy-handed ecological message.

Nonetheless, the film did offer something unusual and distinctive. The animation appeared quite stiff and unnatural, but the artwork itself appeared quite good. Backgrounds looked like watercolor paintings and seemed nicely lush and vivid. The production lost some points for the inconsistent and frequently awkward animated depiction of the characters, but I still liked the filmís unique look.

Also note that Down provided a fairly graphic tale. It really earned its ďPGĒ; in fact, had it not been a cartoon, it clearly would have merited an ďRĒ. The film offered a lot of bloody violence that could seem quite gruesome at times. One definitely should be cautious about the young audience allowed to see the flick; while the bunnies may appear enticing, they arenít the cute and cuddly sort for the most part.

Overall, Iíd recommend Watership Down because it offered something unusual that also seemed reasonably well done. However, I have to acknowledge I felt moderately disappointed with the film. While a competent piece of work, it didnít display the depth that I remembered, and it seemed a bit thin at times. In the end, it was a good movie but not anything terrific.

The DVD Grades: Picture C/ Audio B/ Bonus D-

Watership Down appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though generally acceptable, the picture showed its age at times and offered an inconsistent presentation.

Sharpness seemed fairly crisp and distinct. I discerned no significant problems related to softness or fuzziness at any time, though some light edge haloes appeared and I also noticed minor jagged edges. I also witnessed some digital artifacts that gave the image a moderately noisy appearance on occasion.

As one might expect, Down offered a very earthy palette, and the DVD displayed those tones well. Really, except for Kehaarís beak, the only vivid hue seen during the film came from blood, which ran a deep red. Otherwise, the movie showed subdued but clear and accurate greens and browns. Black levels appeared dark and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without too much opacity.

Where Down lost most of its points related to print flaws. Even for a 29-year-old film, I thought it suffered from too many defects. The image flickered mildly at times, and a moderate amount of grain appeared through much of it. I also noticed quite a few examples of speckles, grit, nicks and spots. These werenít overwhelming, but they seemed a bit excessive. Ultimately, Watership Down provided an acceptable visual presentation, but it had enough problems to lower my grade to a ďCď.

Somewhat stronger was the Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of Watership Down. The forward channels displayed very nice stereo much of the time. Music spread clearly across the channels, and effects - most of which remained in the realm of general woodsy ambience - also blended together neatly and realistically. A fair amount of speech also emanated from the side channels, and this occurred in a natural manner. Sometimes dialogue from the right or left comes across as too speaker-specific, but these words popped up from less obvious realms, so they worked better than usual.

Surround usage appeared modest but useful. I heard virtually no distinct audio from the rear speakers. They seemed to support the music and effects from the front, but they didnít add anything unique. Still, that was fine for a movie from this era, and I thought the surrounds contributed a good sense of atmosphere.

Audio quality seemed reasonably good for the age of the material. Dialogue occasionally appeared somewhat thin, but for the most part, speech came across as acceptably natural and warm. I noticed no concerns related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects lacked substantial punch, but they seemed clear and accurate as a whole, and they lacked substantial distortion. Music came across best. The score featured modest but clean bass and showed bright and fairly vivid highs. This seemed like a positive effort for the era.

The DVD release of Watership Down includes only a few insubstantial extras. In addition to the filmís theatrical trailer, we find a number of text pieces. Cast and Crew simply lists actors and other personnel; no biographies or filmographies appear. Richard Adams provides a very quick biography of the author, while Watership Down Today briefly tells us about the propertyís current status. Finally, Bunny Talk offers definitions of some of the unusual language heard in the film. All in all, these supplements add very little to the package.

While not the classic I remembered from childhood, Watership Down remains a reasonably compelling film. It suffers from the problems that almost automatically occur when one translates a long text into a short movie, and the animation seems fairly weak. However, the flick offers something unique and worthwhile and achieves many of its goals. The DVD provides mediocre picture along with fairly good sound and no significant supplements. Despite a few misgivings, Watership Down provides an unusually adult-oriented effort, and animation fans should give it a look.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2272 Stars Number of Votes: 66
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