Watership Down

Starring (voice): John Hurt, Richard Briers and Hannah Gordon
Warner Home Video

RRP: 15.99
Certificate: U
Available 29 August 2005

In the Sandleford warren, Fiver a young runt rabbit who has visions of the future receives a frightening vision of his warren's imminent destruction. When he and his loving brother, Hazel, fail to convince their chief of the need to evacuate; they set out with a small band of others who heeded the warning and barely manage to elude the Warren's military guards. What follows is a perilous journey in which the band faces the dangers of predators, humans and even their own kind. While they eventually find a peaceful new home in Watership Down, they have new problems that will lead to a deadly conflict with the neighbouring Warren called Efrafa, which is a police state run by the powerful and insane General Woundwart...

I remember seeing Watership Down at the cinema when it was first released and being incredibly moved by it. Twenty seven years on and this still has the ability to keep you glued to your seat for its duration.

The animation is timeless and the story, simple as it is, will keep children entertained as well as adults. There are, besides the more famous actors (John Hurt, Denholm Elliott, Richard Briars, Joss Ackland and Sir Ralph Richardson), plenty of well known actors who play smaller parts (Hannah Gordon, Roy Kinnear and Derek Griffiths).

Each scene has a beautifully painted backdrop in which the main animation plays out on. This helps greatly to make the whole production appear like a work of art. And the filmmakers didn't steer away from the nastier side of nature and the countryside either - there are plenty of grim scenes with rabbits being torn apart by dogs, farmers shooting rabbits, roadkill and the reality of growing older and dying. It was also interesting to discover, on the extras on this disc, that all of the scenery in this movie was actually based on real locations, which apparently still look the same today.

Extras on the disc include an interesting interview with the filmmakers (A Conversation with the Filmmakers - 17 mins) Martin Rosen (Producer, Director and Writer) and Terry Rawlings (Editor). It was incredible to learn that Rosen had never directed a feature film before and was totally out of his depth - what an incredible way to cut your teeth. This featurette also sheds light on the origins of Angela Morely's fantastic soundtrack. The original composer went AWOL and Morely was recommended to replace her. She actually wrote the music in under two weeks. It was also interesting to hear that Art Garfunkel didn't actually like the Bright Eyes song.

The other featurette, Defining a Style (12 mins) mainly talks with the artists on the movie, who relay some of their memories about their time on the project, including meeting John Hurt. There is also a storyboard to movie comparison of a number of key scenes.

Whoever wrote the subtitles was obviously nodding off towards the end. While in the opening scenes we learn about the "prince with the swift warning" when this is repeated at the end of the movie it has now become "prince with the swift warren". I wonder what a swift warren looks like. While this might not seem something that would normally bother the average viewer, I was forced to turn on the subtitles due to the fact the movie's soundtrack kept varying its volume. The end scene with Hazel was so quiet I had to turn the surround sound up really loud.

Despite those slight moans, this is still a classic movie and hasn't aged a bit. One that adults and kids will cherish.

Nick Smithson

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