Watership Down appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became an appealing presentation.
Sharpness seemed crisp and distinct, as I discerned no problems related to softness or fuzziness at any time. The image remained clear and well defined throughout the movie. Jagged edges and moiré effects also presented no problems, and I saw no indications of edge enhancement. With natural grain, I didn’t sense any overuse of digital noise reduction.
As one might expect, Down offered a very earthy palette, and the disc displayed those tones well. Really, other than Kehaar’s beak, the only vivid hue seen during the film came from blood, which ran a deep red. Otherwise, the movie showed subdued but clear and accurate greens and browns. Black levels appeared dark and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without too much opacity.
Down displayed some source flaws, though that criticism came with a caveat. I got the impression that most of the concerns stemmed from the original photography, as the dust and marks seemed to be inherent to the film and not related to a bad print. These weren’t heavy, but they could distract. Overall, however, this was a very good presentation worthy of a “B+”, as even the mild messiness from the original animation couldn’t do much to mar this appealing image.
Also fine was the LPCM 2.0 soundtrack of Watership Down, where the forward channels displayed nice stereo material much of the time. Music spread clearly across the channels, and effects - most of which remained in the realm of general woodsy ambience - also blended together neatly and realistically.
A fair amount of speech also emanated from the side channels, and this occurred in a natural manner. Sometimes dialogue from the right or left comes across as too speaker-specific, but these words popped up from less obvious realms, so they worked better than usual.
Audio quality seemed reasonably good for the age of the material. Dialogue occasionally appeared somewhat thin, but for the most part, speech came across as acceptably natural and warm. I noticed no concerns related to edginess or intelligibility.
Effects lacked substantial punch, but they seemed clear and accurate as a whole, and they lacked substantial distortion. Music came across best. The score featured modest but clean bass and showed bright and fairly vivid highs. This seemed like a quality effort for the era.
How does the Blu-ray compare to the Deluxe Edition DVD from 2008? Audio showed a bit more pep, while the image looked tighter and more distinctive. Although the DVD worked fine, the Blu-ray became a clear improvement.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras, and we open with Passion Project. In this 16-minute, 21-second piece, writer/director Martin Rosen discusses the source novel and its adaptation, other aspects of bringing the story to the screen, art design and animation, cast and performances, music, and the film’s release.
Despite its brevity, “Passion” covers Watership Down pretty well. Rosen covers a good mix of subjects and does so in a compelling manner. While it’s too bad he didn’t record a commentary, the featurette does well for itself.
Another new piece, A Movie Miracle fills 12 minutes, 33 seconds with thoughts from filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. He chats about aspects of its story/themes as well as animation topics and his appreciation for the film. Del Toro’s discussion complements Rosen’s and gives us some nice insights.
From the 2008 DVD, we locate the 12-minute, 34-second Defining a Style featurette. It includes notes from Toonhound.com president Frazer Diamond, animators Alan Simpson and Colin White, background artists Denis Ryan and Gary Sycamore, and actor Joss Ackland. The piece looks at the movie’s visual design and animation. We learn a fair amount about the production here, so it becomes another good program.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get storyboards. When activated, these run alongside the film and let us compare the boards to the final animation. That acts as a good way to view the storyboards, so this turns into a satisfying addition.
Finally, a 12-page booklet comes as part of the package. It features an essay from comic book writer as well as some credits and art. While not one of Criterion’s best booklets, it provides some value to the set.
While not the classic I remembered from childhood, Watership Down remains a reasonably compelling film. It suffers from the problems that almost automatically occur when one translates a long text into a short movie, and the animation seems fairly weak. However, the flick offers something unique and worthwhile and achieves many of its goals. The Blu-ray delivers positive picture and audio along with a small but informative set of supplements. I feel pleased with this quality release.
To rate this film, visit the Widescreen Edition review of WATERSHIP DOWN