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A view on Blu-ray by Gary W. Tooze

Watership Down [Blu-ray]


(Martin Rosen, 1978)



Review by Gary Tooze



Theatrical: Nepenthe Productions

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #748



Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:32:15.738

Disc Size: 39,650,310,203 bytes

Feature Size: 27,321,317,376 bytes

Video Bitrate: 35.58 Mbps

Chapters: 27

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: February 24th, 2015



Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video



LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit



English (SDH), none



• New interview with director Martin Rosen (16:21)
New interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro about the film’s importance in animation history (12:23)
Picture-in-picture storyboards for the entire film
Defining a Style, a 2005 featurette about the film’s aesthetic (12:34)
Trailer (3:43)
PLUS: An essay by comic book writer Gerard Jones






Description: With this passion project, screenwriter-producer-director Martin Rosen brilliantly achieved what had been thought nearly impossible: a faithful big-screen adaptation of Richard Adams’s classic British dystopian novel about a community of rabbits under terrible threat from modern forces. With its naturalistic hand-drawn animation, dreamily expressionistic touches, gorgeously bucolic background design, and elegant voice work from such superb English actors as John Hurt, Ralph Richardson, Richard Briers, and Denholm Elliott, Watership Down is an emotionally arresting, dark-toned allegory about freedom amid political turmoil.



The Film:

Unique in the annals of animated films, Watership Down is a serious, even grim tale that many will find relentless and depressing and others will find poetic and moving. It doesn't pull any punches. Death -- violent, disturbing death -- is ever present, portrayed in a manner that is astonishingly honest for a cartoon. As a result, it is that rare animated film that really aims for a mature audience, despite its superficial funny animal trappings. It has a brilliant opening, most likely created by UPA veteran John Hubley, which in a primitive and simplistic style relates a creation myth as told by rabbits. The style changes thereafter, with beautiful watercolor backgrounds and a more natural approach to character animation. Unfortunately, the animation suffers somewhat from this point, becoming a bit sloppy, although it continues to portray the characters' movements as realistically as possible. The character designs themselves are rather too similar, with the result that it is sometimes difficult to tell the various rabbits apart. The story is also sometimes told in too-broad strokes, leaving those unfamiliar with the novel confused as to exactly what has happened and, more importantly, why. However, these flaws are redeemed by some unforgettable sequences, including a chilling segment detailing the destruction of the rabbits' warren and a devastatingly sad end sequence in which the Black Rabbit of Death gently takes one of the heroes away with it. Voiced by a fine cast, with stellar work from John Hurt and Richard Briers, Watership Down is an imperfect film with some of the most powerful moments ever created for the genre.

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

All told, the movie is an excellent and unsoftened take on the novel, though I regret the pacing that sometimes makes it feel like a TV movie; there are a few too many fades to black where it seems a commercial should go. There's a musical interlude set to the song "Bright Eyes" (sung by Art Garfunkel) that's subtle enough -- at least it's not a pull-out-the-stops Disney number -- but also runs on a bit. Otherwise, all these years later, this is the same movie I fell in love with as a kid. The villains are genuinely frightening; I'd put Woundwort up against anyone whose name begins with Darth, and the crosscutting in the climax -- Bigwig vs. Woundwort, while a hungry dog decimates most of the Efrafa owsla -- has it all over the similar climax in Star Wars Episode I. The grim, brutal moments stand out more in memory, but actually a good deal of the film is hopeful and almost idyllic.

Excerpt from Rob Gonsalves located HERE


Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

Watership Down looks precisely how I recall it did theatrically - on Blu-ray from Criterion. Animation really can't go too wrong in 1080P with a good source. The visuals are clean with bright, but not falsely exuberant, colors.  This is dual-layered with a max'ed out bitrate and it looks very impressive in-motion. We may eventually compare to the European Blu-rays but I don't anticipate dramatic differences. It is in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and contrast is very adept. The image quality is consistent throughout with pleasing examples of depth. This Blu-ray has no discernable flaws and supplies a wonderful 1080P presentation.















Audio :

Criterion use a linear PCM 2.0 channel at a healthy 2304 kbps. Watership Down was the first animated feature film to be presented in Dolby surround sound. The score is by Angela Morley - born Wally Scott - composed before and after a sex change operation in 1972 for many prominent TV series of the day including Dallas, Falcon Crest, Dynasty, The Colbys and Hotel. Of course, the memorable music in the film is Mike Batt's Bright Eyes as sung so beautifully by Art Garfunkel. Watership Down features the voices of John Hurt, Richard Briers, Harry Andrews, Simon Cadell, Nigel Hawthorne, and Roy Kinnear, and was the last film credit for Zero Mostel, the voice characterization of Kehaar the gull. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.


Extras :

Criterion offer some great value in the supplements - we get a new, 16-minute, interview with writer, producer, director Martin Rosen conducted in 2014. He chronicles the difficult process of bringing Richard Adams's celebrated novel to the screen. There is also a new, 12-minute, interview with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro about the film’s importance and uniqueness in animation history. You may watch the entire film with picture-in-picture storyboards for the entire film. The animation team's storyboards, created under the supervision of senior layout artist Gordon Harrison. The original concept art for the opening sequence is based on designs by Lucia Arrighi. Defining a Style, is another dozen minute featurette from 2005 about the film’s aesthetic where many key animators and background artists recall their painstaking work on this landmark adaptation. There is also a trailer and the package has a liner notes booklet with an essay by comic book writer Gerard Jones.



Watership Down has such a unique place in film - a pre-CGI animated feature so outside of the Disney-mold. Sure, there have been others - but the political connotations give this an inspired edge above the rest of its relatively early modern era. An epic-aura of fantasy adventure that improves over time.  The Criterion Blu-ray package offers a great a/v presentation with revealing extras. We give it a very strong recommendation! 

Gary Tooze

February 10th, 2015


About the Reviewer: Hello, fellow Beavers! I have been interested in film since I viewed a Chaplin festival on PBS when I was around 9 years old. I credit DVD with expanding my horizons to fill an almost ravenous desire to seek out new film experiences. I currently own approximately 9500 DVDs and have reviewed over 5000 myself. I appreciate my discussion Listserv for furthering my film education and inspiring me to continue running DVDBeaver. Plus a healthy thanks to those who donate and use our Amazon links.

Although I never wanted to become one of those guys who focused 'too much' on image and sound quality - I find HD is swiftly pushing me in that direction.

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60-Inch Class (59.58” Diagonal) 1080p Pioneer KURO Plasma Flat Panel HDTV PDP6020-FD

Oppo Digital BDP-83 Universal Region FREE Blu-ray/SACD Player
Momitsu - BDP-899 Region FREE Blu-ray player
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Tannoy DC6-T (fronts) + Energy (centre, rear, subwoofer) speakers (5.1)

APC AV 1.5 kVA H Type Power Conditioner 120V

Gary W. Tooze






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