Please enjoy another review from the Vaults. Yes, this was back when I thought going by “Necrotik” was edgy and stuff… Old shame? No matter, enjoy!
“ANGRY BUNNEH KNOWS DA TRUFF!” – A tired me trying to be funny while watching this.
Collaboration with my werewolf friend!
Necrotik here and I’ll be focusing on the movie adaptation of Watership Down, released in 1978.
The budget of this film most certainly shows with blatant overuse of rotoscoping techniques and fascinating water colour styled paintings juxtaposing limited animation that heavily clashes with the surroundings. But, this almost blends better than the quirky usage of these techniques in movies like “Heavy Metal.” In a way, it might add to the appeal. In fact, I really enjoy the painted backgrounds, helping to create this stylized fable like atmosphere that the film is trying to create.
The beginning of the film focuses on a legend upheld by the rabbit characters, with a story and aesthetic that seems to draw from Aboriginal folklore. After this bit of lore, we are introduced to a photorealistic rotoscope bunny that magically shapeshifts into a realistic cartoon rabbit with awkward jaw movement. Seriously, the movement of the jaws looks so unnatural. (It’s almost terrifying!) The plot (at least according to what I know from the film) involves one of the rabbits receiving a vision of doom and gloom involving their warren. So he wants to set off in hopes of a better land, taking a few with him. Things quickly go wrong as the “bunny secret police” try to prevent them from leaving their territory, only for one of their previous, Bigwig to stand up to the watchman… watchrabbit so the plot can continue onward. Well, things only go down hill from there as the vast frontier is rife with much more danger. The straggling group attempts to venture forward iwith trippy visions act as a motivator for the plot. Not soon after, Bigwig is nearly killed by a trap. Luckily, he survives the encounter to find a farm. They hop over to discover a hutch filled with does (girl rabbits!) and they’re like “ME GUSTA.” Attempts to bring them along on their adventures fail (during this run at least) as they flee further into wilderness, where they encounter an annoying seagull (that kinda reminds me of that crow from “Secret of NIHM”). I can’t remember his name, so he is “Boris” (the accent helps with that one…) The next attempt to free the does from their hutch goes just as bad, now with gunshots! One of the bunnies is nearly killed, but a bit of clever thinking and good survival skills barely keep him going. They find out a nearby warren has tons of does, however it’s a fascist nightmare. Introduce “Angry Bunny”. He’s old, he’s scary, he scratches and crunches the shit out of things. Attempts to reason with him go as well as you’d expect, including some failed espionage. And so, our heroes try to rescue some lovely ladies from the warren resulting in retaliation. The final showdown takes place in the hill they were supposedly destined to venture to. Our BORIS friend decides to venture back after helping to save our comrades from Angry Bunneh’s army of doom via a convenient river raft ride. The warren seer mentions dogs in the woods in a vision. While the new warren seems stable for now the troops arrive soon after. Hazel attempts some diplomacy in hopes of settling things, but his charisma score is bad (Obligatory reference?) and decides to RELEASE THE HOUNDS! The warren evacuates save for a couple to fend off the bad guys. Bigwig and ANGRY BUNNEH have a showdown, with our angry antagonist attempting to flee, only for the farm dog to presumably turn him into a chew toy. With the warren of fascism banished from the hill, the new warren can prosper. Years pass as Hazel reflects upon the warren’s success. Some Black Bunny spirit visits him, saying it’s time to goand ensuring the warren will be fine. He then flies away (SQUADALA, WE ARE OFF!) with the spirit to join the wonderful world of afterlife.
Rambling synopsis aside, the film’s not bad for an adaptation of a classic book (I admit) I haven’t read. I’m sure the original novel by Richard Adams is great and so I’ll turn the review over to Phantom. Again, this isn’t quite my thing, so I’m out of my element. Even so, I had fun watching this!
I give it a 7.5/10
TAKE IT AWAY, PHANTOM!
BitchOfBurden: Hey all! Phantom here to help Doc. Necrotic out with the review. SPOILERS ABOUND.
Let me start out by saying I love this movie. I’m a big fan of animal stories, so how could I not enjoy the iconic Watership Down? In fact, it’s my favorite book [I just re-read it haha]!
There’s a charm to older, low-budget animation. Movies such as The Last Unicorn and the Hobbit are often remembered specifically for the strange animation and rather violent action of the stories. They carry an air of nostalgia that many fans find appealing and endearing By today’s standards, many of these films are often scoffed at or ignored by both audiences and reviewers. However, I feel that many of these films are more than worthy of being taken seriously, and should be appreciated.
On that note, the animation of Watership Down is quite splendid. While the character animation is far from perfect, it carries all the charm of low-budget animation that many fans love. The rabbits’ movements, minus a few exceptions [such as the aforementioned Awkward Jaw Movement, and Cowslip’s wrist twirling] are portrayed very accurately. The backgrounds, modeled off real locations, are beautiful watercolor paintings.
I understand that cuts had to be made in order to render the story suitable for a 92 minute film. And, honestly, I’m quite fine with how such an eventful storyline crowded with complex characters was simplified. The main cast has been lightened with the exclusion of the more “minor” characters, such as Acorn and Bluebell [though, personally Bluebell was one of my favorites]. The story too, has been shortened, and certain events have been re-arranged in the plot. These changes are perfectly agreeable and work very well for a film adaptation.
What makes an adaptation successful, however, is retaining as many elements of the source material as possible, while still making it accessible to new audiences. This, unfortunately, is where the film fails. In an attempt to stay true to the novel, the language of the rabbits, Lapine, remains in the dialogue. This would have worked, if more care was taken in explaining what that vocabulary meant. The average viewer who has not read the book would have no inkling of what “hraka” or “Inle” is. When Doc Necrotik and I watched the movie with some friends, I was acting as a rabbit translator the entire time.
Another issue I take with the film is the characterization of the main cast. They retain the bare-basic traits of their novel counterparts; Hazel is level-headed and authoritive, Bigwig is the tough guy, etc. While this works for many of them, others have been reduced to mere shadows of who they were in the book. Particularly, the character of Fiver in the film disappointed me. In the book, he’s a bit introverted when it comes to his mysticisms, but is, overall, a socialable rabbit who plays an active part in all aspects of the book. In the movie, he has role been reduced a seer, and an annoyingly nervous and cowardly one at that.
One last gripe I have is the one that the movie is most known for today, especially on the internet: the gore content. I take no issue with the amount of violence in the movie: it’s justified. But the buckets of blood aren’t. When Bigwig is snared, it looks as if his throat was slit rather than caught. When Blackavar is slain, he is completely torn apart and his blood soaks the earth beneath him. It’s just too much and is very distracting from what’s happening plot-wise and emotionally.
Despite its apparent flaws, the movie really is worth a watch. Animal-lovers yearning for a more mature story will most likely love it. Animation lovers will undoubtedly find it visually interesting. Fans of the book: your mileage may vary. Everyone else: have fun riffing on it.