Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Watership Down

Based on the novel by Richard Adams, Watership Down is the story of community of rabbits who are being threatened by modern forces in a dystopian world. Written for the screen and directed by Martin Rosen, the film is a look into the concept of the Apocalypse from the viewpoints of rabbits as the film is narrated by Michael Horndern. Featuring the voices of John Hurt, Richard Briers, Denholm Elliott, Ralph Richardson, Simon Cadell, Michael Graham Cox, Harry Andrews, and Zero Mostel. Watership Down is a gripping and mesmerizing film from Martin Rosen.

Set in a modern world, the film revolves a group of rabbits who are forced to flee their home and find a new one after one of them has an apocalyptic vision. Along the way, they contend with the harsh world of nature as well as other creatures and a community of rabbits who represent a totalitarian view of the world. It’s a film that is sort of a dystopian film but it’s also a film about survival as these rabbits not only cope with the reality of man destroying their land for themselves but also realize what they have to do to ensure their own survival as it relates to female rabbits. Martin Rosen’s script doesn’t just emphasize a lot on survival but also the idea of a community that is free and doesn’t want to adhere to rules that are suppressive. It also opens with a fable about the species of the rabbit and why they’re considered prey in the animal food chain which does add a lot into their quest for survival.

Rosen’s direction is quite intoxicating in not just the way he creates these dazzling images set against the backdrop of the English countryside. It also has this sense of style in the animation that is very engaging with an air of realism that makes it more ravishing in its look. With the aid of animation director Tony Guy and supervisor Philip Duncan, the look of the two-dimensional, hand-drawn animation does bring a lot of life to not just the look of the characters but also in the way these rabbits deal with their situations including some very dark moments involving violence. The fact that it’s an animated film that has this very realistic and gripping take on violence with images of blood does manage to bring a lot of weight into the film as well as the theme of survival. The film opens with a sequence that was helmed by the film’s original director John Hubley (who died during production) which is presented in a more innocent fashion as it relates to the fable of the rabbits including its main figurehead who would create that sense of tension between rabbit and other animals.

The direction also create these intense imagery that play into the idea of death and terror thanks in part to some dazzling sequences created by Luciana Arrighi for moments that do play into what one of the rabbits see. With the aid of layour artists Gordon Harrison, Peter See, and Ted Pettengell, the film maintains that look of the countryside as well as the look of the rabbit holes to play into where the rabbits want to seek shelter. It also would add to the film’s climax as it relates to the group of totalitarian rabbits led by half-blind general battling against a rabbit who briefly joined the group as a spy in the hope he can get the group of female rabbits to join his community and feel free. Rosen would also maintain a sense of atmosphere that plays a lot into the drama as the animation would feature these gorgeous images of rain as if they look real but in some of the intense moments as it relates to its climax. Overall, Rosen creates an evocative and riveting film about a community of rabbits trying to survive in finding their new home.

Editor Terry Rawlings does brilliant work with the editing as it is very straightforward in terms of some of the rhythmic cutting that plays out in the film‘s suspenseful and dramatic moments. Sound effects mixer Ray Mervin does excellent work with the film‘s sound effects in the way thunderstorm sounds as well as the way machines sound in some scenes. The film’s music by Angela Morley and Malcolm Williamson is amazing for its orchestral-based score that adds a lot to the dramatic and suspenseful moments of the film with additional work by music director Marcus Dods in supervising the soundtrack that includes the song Bright Eyes by Mike Batt and sung by Art Garfunkel for one of the film’s mesmerizing moments.

The film’s incredible ensemble voice cast features contributions from narrator Michael Hordern in one of the runaway rabbits in Frith, Joss Ackland as the mysterious grim reaper-like character in the Black Rabbit, Hannah Gordon as a female rabbit who is enslaved by the totalitarian group in Hyzenthlay, Denholm Elliott as a rabbit leader the group meets in Cowslip, and Harry Andrews as the evil leader of the totalitarian rabbits in Woundwort. Zero Mostel is fantastic as a wounded gull named Kehaar who would be an ally to the group of rabbits while Ralph Richardson is superb as the group’s old chief who doesn’t believe in one of the visions that a rabbit claims to see.

John Bennett is excellent as an aging rabbit who was an associate of the chief who later joins the group after his own dangerous encounter. Richard Briers is brilliant as Fiver as the one who sees these strange visions as he gets help from his brother in aiding the escape. Michael Graham Cox is amazing as Bigwig as the toughest rabbit who was close to their leader as he aids the community in many ways. Finally, there’s John Hurt in a phenomenal role as Hazel as Fiver’s big brother who helps his brother in the escape while being the unlikely leader as well as the one that is willing to rally everyone and provide the plans to escape and such.

Watership Down is a sensational film from Martin Rosen. Featuring a great voice cast, gorgeous visuals, top-notch animation, and a fantastic score, the film isn’t just a gripping animation film that appeals to more than just children but also offers a glimpse into the world of totalitarianism and dystopia into a setting that is simple and to the point. In the end, Watership Down is a tremendous film from Martin Rosen.

© thevoid99 2016


Brittani Burnham said...

OMG this bunny massacre. This was on TV the other day and my husband watched it as he had never scene it before. I think the ending sequence shocked him quite a bit. It's so funny to look at the PG rating on this thing now. Nice write up!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me - I still need to make Sean watch this. It's practically essential viewing.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-I think you and your husband saw it on TCM as I recorded it on that day as I finally saw it yesterday. Man, it's a fucking great film and needs to be seen by everyone no matter how dark it is. tell him to see it now or I'll feed him to the Chinese!!!