Watership Down

Dir: Martin Rosen
1978
Never read the Richard Adams book, but I did read Plague Dogs.
Never saw the film of Plague Dogs, but I did watch Watership Down several times growing up. This DVD popped up in the library and so I grabbed it, wondering what it would be like now to view it.
The animation is fairly ropey, but for an independent British production of its time, it does the job well. There are some jittery pans and zooms, the rabbits occasionally jump up and down as if somebody put the animation cells out of order, and the often flat drawing style takes us out of the film’s illusion.
But the daily life of a rabbit is presented with grim realism, with much blood and death. I do remember being scared by this as a kid, and with due reason: the film starts off with a stylized origin myth (a mix of British and African graphics), which proclaims death to always be nearby, and then jumps to the narrative where nervous, prescient rabbit Fiver sees his warren’s doom: “I see blood all over the field!” It’s like Stanley Kubrick directing Beatrix Potter.
The tale is a hero’s journey from doomed warren to utopian hill, and then a secondary journey back to infiltrate the evil rabbit gang to pillage their women for breeding purposes.
I was entertained, and there hasn’t been many films like it since, pitched somewhere between anthropomorphism and realism.
It’s also a one-stop shop for great British actors, a list of major celebrity voices: John Hurt, Ralph Richardson, Zero Mostel (not British, I know), Richard Briers, Nigel Hawthorne, Roy Kinnear, Denholm Elliott, Joss Ackland, and more I’m sure. Apart from the wobbly animation, the film did seem truncated at the end. We never did get a resolution to the main characters, and we jump ahead years to witness the hero rabbit snuffing his little bunny lid and hopping off with the great Black Rabbit in the sky (The disembodied black head floating in the sky is still a very cool image.) But is this how quickly the book ends?

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  1. Hehe, The book kind of ends like that too, sudden and causes frustration. Richard Adams though finally wrote an afterward that practically said in kinder words: “Rabbits die after 4-5 years so in the end they died.” Hehe, such a funny old grump.

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