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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New interview with director Martin Rosen
  • New appreciation of the film by director Guillermo del Toro
  • Picture-in-picture storyboard for the entire film
  • Defining a Style, a 2008 featurette about the film's aesthetic
  • Trailer

Watership Down

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Martin Rosen
Starring: John Hurt, Ralph Richardson, Denholm Elliott, Harry Andrews, Nigel Hawthorne, Zero Mostel
1978 | 92 Minutes | Licensor: Euro-London Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #748
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: February 24, 2015
Review Date: February 3, 2015

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SYNOPSIS

With this passion project, screenwriter-producer-director Martin Rosen brilliantly achieved what was thought difficult, if not impossible: a faithful big-screen adaptation of Richard Adams's classic British dystopian novel about a community of rabbits seeking safety and happiness after their warren comes under terrible threat. 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.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

The second animated feature to appear in the collection (not counting their LaserDisc edition of Akira mind you), Criterion presents Martin Rosenís Watership Down on Blu-ray, presenting the film in the directorís preferred aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc with a new 1080p/24hz encode.

Before coming to this I had just viewed Disneyís Blu-ray for their animated feature 101 Dalmatians. It was certainly pleasant enough but Disney has a tendency to apply noise reduction to reduce film grain to the point that the line work can appear a bit fuzzy. Like a lot of other Disney transfers it looks fine, but could be better.

Watership Down was a nice breath of fresh air for a classically animated film after that. This new presentation (apparently done by Warner Bros. and taken from the 35mm negative) is far sharper and crisper in comparison to that Disney effortóeven keeping film grainówith the fine line work distinctly rendered and lacking the fuzzy edges. Colours are also quite brilliant, with lovely, rich blacks accompanying them. The transfer is clean, free of distortion and noise, retaining a filmic appearance.

The print is in excellent shape and a lot of debris has been removed. What remains appears to be byproducts of the actual animation process: it appears that dust or dirt may have gotten in between the glass plates used while photographing cells and you can make out particles of dust. Itís noticeable in a few places, but on the whole easy to overlook. There are also some noticeable colour fluctuations in corners of the frame from time to time. As mentioned previously film grain remains, and can get a bit heavy in places, but it at least looks natural and doesnít present any problems.

I canít speak as to how it compares with Warnerís previous Deluxe Edition DVD as I never saw it, but in the end Criterionís presentation delivers one of the stronger transfers for classically animated feature that Iíve seen, and makes me hope that Criterion will visit other animated films.

9/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The film gets a 2.0 stereo PCM track. Itís decent enough, delivering a fairly rich and immersive experience. The sound field fills up nicely, and music provides an incredible amount of clarity and detail. Range is superb and volume levels are nicely handled. Thereís a slight hiss that is quite audible from time to time, though, and will be there for a few minutes but then completely disappear. Since itís not consistent I can only assume this was the best that could be done with the source materials. Past this issue the track is otherwise strong.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Supplements is where this release disappoints. Though I admittedly havenít looked at Warnerís Deluxe Edition, having checked out the list of supplements shows that this release barely beats it out, even reusing one of the features. A newly recorded interview with Martin Rosen opens this edition and appears to replace a similar feature on the Warner disc, which was an interview with Rosen and editor Terry Rawlins. Though Rosen appears here by himself the 16-minute interview is still fairly thorough, with Rosen going over his reasons for doing the film and the difficulty in getting financing (and then distributing!) He hadnít done an animated feature before so the film was a learning experience, with him going over the surprises that came up all while we get to see some of the concept art that was developed. He looks back now and realizes just how lucky he was to have the animators he did, and reflects on the things heíd love to do differently, but overall heís rather satisfied with the film Itís a solid interview, though I would have hoped for a commentary from the director.

The scholarly element to the release is a new 12-minute interview with director Guillermo del Toro. Here he talks about first discovering the film in his teens and the realization that cartoons could be more than just family friendly fare and were not just a genre unto themselves, but just another way to tell stories. He talks about the importance of companies like UPA and how they changed what was expected of animated films and shorts, and also gets into the wave of more adult fare, like the work of Ralph Bakshi (though I get the idea heís not a huge fan). He then talks about the social elements to Watership Down and offers his admiration for how cinematic the film is, even containing camera moves.

Carried over from the Warner disc is the 12-minute featurette Defining a Style, which presents interviews with the various animators that worked on the film, along with actor Joss Acklund. Here the animators talk about the difficulty of keeping a similar style throughout the film, and how work was divided out, with some animators preferring to do certain tasks. They also cover their favourite sequences in the film. It works somewhat as a look at the animation process, expanding from Rosenís own comments, who still has a more limited knowledge in comparison.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray edition is the full set of animated storyboards, which play over the entire film in the right top corner of the frame. Each frame corresponds to a scene in the film. Some boards look a little worn, probably from age, but most detail is there. Thereís also quite a few that present text descriptions for the scene. Itís an excellent feature, though similar to their Devilís Backbone release the storyboards are a separate subtitle track, not a picture-in-picture presentation, so this means you canít have the optional English subtitles play along with the film. But since this film is in English this aspect is not as annoying in comparison to what we got with the Spanish-language Backbone, where you had to watch the film and storyboards without English language subs.

(The DVD edition apparently only comes with a separate select-scene storyboard feature, since the technology doesnít allow a similar presentation to the Blu-ray. I havenít seen the DVD edition as of this writing, though, so canít confirm.)

The disc then closes with the filmís rather long almost 4-minute theatrical trailer. The insert then features an essay by Gerard Jones, who looks at the adaptation from the novel, as well as the political and existential themes found in the story. He also expresses how he was initially disappointed by the film, but finds it works a lot better now (he still obviously holds the novel in a higher regard).

Though there is some decent stuff it feels really slight. Rosen had recorded a commentary for a European DVD release, so I was surprised to see that one, or even a newly recorded one, wasnít here. And though del Toro touches nicely on animation at the time Iím surprised there wasnít a more thorough supplement on the subject, or even more on the original novel.

5/10

CLOSING

I found the presentation great: very strong, very filmic, and for this aspect I think admirers of the film will be thrilled. The supplements on the other hand leave a bit to be desired and it feels like another missed opportunity.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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