Watership Down (1978)

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Released 2-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Animation Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Martin Rosen (Dir) and Chris Gore (filmthreat.com editor)
Music Video-Bright Eyes - Art Garfunkel
Notes-Rabbit Words Glossary
Theatrical Trailer
Gallery-In-Production Stills Gallery
Gallery-Premiere Night Gallery
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Notes-Rabbit Religion
Notes-The Real Watership Down - With Gallery
Reversible Cover
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1978
Running Time 88:05
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Martin Rosen
Studio
Distributor
Nepenthe Productions
Big Sky Video
Starring John Hurt
Sir Ralph Richardson
Denholm Elliott
Zero Mostel
Michael Horden
Nigel Hawthorne
Richard Briers
Hannah Gordon
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music Angela Morley
Mike Batt


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Richard Adams has written some incredibly powerful stories, ones that reach down inside of you and evoke feelings you may not have wanted to experience, feelings which can be very confronting at times. Surprisingly for such powerful material, most are told from the point of view of various animals. The Plague Dogs is told obviously from the point of view of a couple of dogs (also turned into an animated feature by Martin Rosen), Shardik is about a bear, and of course Watership Down is about some of our favourite rabbits.

    It is interesting that both the book and the film had varying success depending on the country they were released in. At first glance (and particularly in the early 70s), a book involving rabbits would seem to be one aimed at children. As we know, this is definitely not the case and this is echoed in the film, particularly the violence. The film has a PG rating and in this case it is accurate. The violence is both graphic (even though it is animated) and particularly harrowing as you have come to really care about the characters. The cover slip that came with the DVD is reversible, and on one side is the image that ordained both the book cover and many of the movie posters. It consists of an image of a rabbit caught in a choke snare and on the back is an image showing some of the savagery of the film with a frame of the dog that attacks the rabbits at one stage. On the other side is a much more sedate image with Hazel and Fiver at the top and a group shot of many of the characters at the bottom. The dog image is missing from the back. I don't know which cover is the one shown when delivered to the shops but I hope it is the original. If the second cover is an attempt to play down the violence in the film and maybe get the film placed in the children's DVD section, this would be a real mistake.

    A film that is based on a book, particularly a book that is loved by so many is going to be very hard to make. We have all seen some atrocious attempts at this conversion; Robert Heinlein must be spinning in his grave at some of the treatment his material has received. A second problem is just how you perform the conversion. The Harry Potter films (which I do like) are examples of simply transferring the material directly to film. Another way is that the writer and director (thankfully the same person in the case of this film) read the book and truly see and feel what is contained therein. They (or he) then take the essence of the material and transform it to a new medium, telling the same story with the same feel and message as the original but in a new way.

    This is what we have with this film - a wonderful interpretation of the book. While the characters are the same for the most part, there are a number of sections of the book that have been left out and the language of the rabbits is less prominent. This has not changed the overall feel of the story.

    The animation style is very simple in comparison to what we see today. In fact for me, they are now separate mediums and both have their advantages and disadvantages. The backdrops for the film are beautiful water-colours of the country around Watership Down, and they are very realistic. They are portrayed in soft colours and occasionally do jar with the characters as they sometimes appear to be sitting in front of a picture as the characters are solid colours. I don't know if this film would have the same impact if remade today with modern technology and realism - the artwork of the characters and backgrounds and the expressions that they manage to give to the characters adds much to the story.

    With John Hurt and Zero Mostel amongst a host of others providing the voice talent for this film, you really cannot go wrong. Their voices combined with the great skill of the animators bring the characters to incredibly vibrant life.

    In the book there is an incredible depth to the world of the rabbits. There is an entire religion as well as a rabbit language. The religion has been kept, though there are less references to it in the film. There were more tales told in the book but in a book the author has the leisure of many many pages to outline his world. Some of the language has been brought across but not the entire vocabulary. During the commentary, Martin Rosen mentions that he thought that the audience would have enough to absorb in the film without the added complication of a new language. In the book, a confusing word can be looked up in the conveniently provided translation dictionary at the back of the book.

    There are several main characters that weave the main story. The sheer depth of the characters in this film always astounds me considering this is an animated film. Fiver is a small rabbit, one with what those in Celtic countries would call 'the sight'. He gets visions of the future. He is central in triggering the journey that makes up most of the film. His brother, Hazel, is very level-headed, intelligent and a natural leader. Bigwig, one of the most popular characters from the film, is initially one of the Owsla, the rabbit police force. He joins the group that decides to leave the original warren and the subtle tension about who is the true leader of the group is fascinating to follow. Other characters include Kehaar, the seagull that the rabbits help and in return earn the friendship of. The antagonist for the film is the character of General Woundwort and has to be one of the best 'bad guys' ever portrayed in the medium. There is real depth to his character and a real sense of fear when he is on screen.

    When Fiver sees that the warren that they are living in is going to be destroyed, he persuades a group of rabbits to begin a perilous journey through the English countryside in search of a new home. Along the way they meet some difficult challenges and other rabbits, some interesting and some very dangerous. The final challenge is to rescue some does from a warren ruled by the iron paw of General Woundwort.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     I would have thought for a film with the following that this one has and for a 25th anniversary edition they might have done a little restoration on the image, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.

    The back cover states "1.85:1 Original Theatrical Ratio - Enhanced for widescreen TVs" which is close, but not quite correct. The image on the disc is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 (the original theatrical aspect ratio was 1.66:1), and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image is pretty sharp, although there are some focus issues in a couple of spots. At 33:08 just to the left of Hazel there is a single stalk of wild wheat. This stack goes in and out of focus for some reason. Shadow detail is as drawn. There is quite a lot of low level noise triggered by the grain present in the master. There is also a rather annoying brightness variation where the overall brightness fluctuates over a couple of frames.

    The colour palette is almost completely earth tones and the water colour backdrops are also quite muted. There is the occasional flash of colour such as a bird that appears. The colours are slightly affected by posterization - where the source would have a single block of colour, there is sometime two tones within the area, and the outlines of the colour patches are blocky. An example is the rabbit's body at 14:37.

    There is some minor pixelization in the backgrounds most probably triggered by the grain. An example is at 17:11 near the dog. There is also a very occasional instance of aliasing, mostly in the rabbits' whiskers. Film artefacts are constant with grain, dirt, scratches and the occasional hole. The frames leading up to 12:54 have examples of most of these. There is also the appearance of a dirty glass plate in front of the image during the credits where dirty marks stay in the one spot on the screen as the image pans.

  There are no subtitles on this single layered disc.

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

Audio

     Overall, the soundtrack sounded a little thin, though to be fair a lot of soundtracks from this era sound similar.

    There are two soundtracks on this disc, the main English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack and a second Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack carrying the commentary.

    There were no problems with the dialogue quality nor with the audio sync.

    There are of course two parts to the music in this film. The background music is pretty good in most parts, although there are a couple of points where I thought the mood evoked did not quite match the on-screen material. The other is of course the wonderful song Bright Eyes, sung by Art Garfunkel. This is the only musical number in the movie with vocals and became an overnight hit.

    The surrounds are reserved but definitely present. They expand the soundstage for the music and surround you on occasions with the sounds of the forest or down. A good effort for 25 years ago.

    There was some depth to the soundtrack but nothing room shaking.

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

Extras

Menu

    A very nice menu and very appropriate for the film. We are looking out at the world from just inside a rabbit hole. Through the opening we see some clips from the film. It's a great idea to have the world seen from the rabbits' point of view as the first thing that we see on the disc. The audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 and the aspect ratio is 1.78:1.

Bright Eyes Loop (2:58)

    This selection plays the movie from 50:24 to 53:22. This is the section that contains the song Bright Eyes and some great animation sequences. The aspect ratio and the audio are the same as the main feature as this loop plays from the main feature.

Rabbit Words Glossary

    Six pages giving the meaning for some of the rabbit language. On the first four pages there are four words to a page with a picture of the object and a short translation. The fifth page is the same but with only three words. The last page has one word described with a picture and four without pictures.

Audio Commentary: Martin Rosen interviewed by editor of filmthreat.com, Chris Gore.

    This commentary starts out giving the impression that it is going to be screen-specific but unfortunately you are soon dissuaded of this notion. Recorded in 2003, it is a series of leading questions from Chris with answers from Martin. Leaving aside the disappointment of not having a screen-specific commentary, it is full of fascinating information. It actually runs slightly longer than the film and somehow, if you are listening to the second audio stream which contains the commentary, the film does not go back to the menu when it finishes but displays a static screen with pictures of both men. The audio is set up with Chris in the left channel and Martin in the right channel.

Theatrical Trailer (3:19)

    A very long trailer presented at 1.78:1 and accompanied by a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. There is a voice-over describing the film in a somewhat hushed or awed voice. There are lots of scenes from the film but many are out of order or given slightly different meaning by the voice-over. Still, a pretty good representation of the film.

In Production Gallery

    The Galleries are set up as a series of chapters. Pressing next will show the next image. They are also timed so once the first picture is displayed you can simply wait ten seconds for the next to appear. The production gallery contains twenty eight black and white photos of various aspect ratios. There is text over the image telling us who is in the shot. They consist of people involved in the production from artists to compositors to composers. There is no audio.

Premiere Night Gallery

    Only four black and white photos here including Prince Charles and Richard Adams at the opening night.

Cast and Crew Biographies

Rabbit Religion

    Nine pages quickly outlining the beliefs of the rabbits, covering their God, life and death.

Real Watership Down images.

    Three text pages introduce twelve pages with pictures from the actual location displayed next to the scene from the film where this location is used. The quality of the backgrounds is highlighted here where you can see the real location in comparison. They really are little artworks all on their own.

R4 vs R1

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

    Information on the R1 version of this disc is very confused with multiple sources giving different information. From what I can glean, this is the comparison:

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    All else being equal, this gives us a Region 4 winner.

Summary

    It is interesting to hear in the commentary just how close this film came to not being made. This would have been a great loss to the world of film and in particular to animated films. This film both set the standard and proved that an animated feature could be aimed at the adult market and succeed.

    The video is a little disappointing.

    The audio is good all things considered.

    The extras are a nice inclusion.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Terry McCracken (read my bio)
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDSkyworth 1050p progressive scan, using RGB output
DisplaySony 1252q CRT Projector, Screen Technics matte white screen 16:9 (223cm). Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR800
SpeakersB&W DM305 (mains); CC3 (centre); S100 (surrounds); custom Adire Audio Tempest with Redgum plate amp (subwoofer)

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Comments (Add)
R4 winner ? How so ? -
Deaf People - Christopher
R1 version -
Region 4 Picture Quality Markedly Better than R1 -
R1 vs R4 picture quality -
both R4 and R1 are single layer discs. -
My mistake -
R1 and R4 have same compression and same level of grain -