Watership Down appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Some concerns appeared, but the transfer usually satisfied.
Sharpness seemed nicely crisp and distinct. 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.
As one might expect, Down offered a very earthy palette, and the DVD 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 lost some points due to 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. Still, it became tough to tell. In addition to moderate grain, I saw some specks and spots through the flick. These weren’t heavy, but they could distract. Overall, however, this was a good presentation worthy of a “B”.
Also fine was the Dolby Stereo 2.0 soundtrack of Watership Down. The forward channels displayed very nice stereo 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.
Surround usage appeared modest but useful. I heard virtually no distinct audio from the rear speakers. They seemed to support the music and effects from the front, but they didn’t add anything unique. Still, that was fine for a movie from this era, and I thought the surrounds contributed a good sense of atmosphere.
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 fine effort for the era.
How do the picture and audio of this 2008 “Deluxe Edition” compare to those of the original DVD from 2002? I felt both discs provided virtually identical sound, but the 2008 transfer looked noticeably superior to its predecessor. It provided a cleaner presentation and lacked some digital noise found on the original. Even with its minor flaws, the 2008 disc seemed substantially more attractive.
The DE boasts a few new extras not found on the old disc. Watership Down: A Conversation with the Filmmakers goes for 17 minutes, 11 seconds and presents comments from writer/producer/director Martin Rosen and editor Terry Rawlings. They discuss the real-life visual inspirations for the film, aspects of the novel and its adaptation, choosing to make the flick as an animated work and bringing it to the screen, character design and animation, cast and performances, audio and editing, music, getting distribution for the flick, and its reception.
For the piece, Rosen and Rawlings chat together and they provide quite a few good notes about the movie. They show a nice chemistry together as they reminisce. I’m disappointed they didn’t sit for a full commentary, but their discussion offers many nice details about Down in this informative show.
Next comes the 12-minute and two-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.
Four Storyboard Comparisons fill a total of 13 minutes, 58 seconds. These cover “Opening Sequence” (3:41), “Nuthanger Farm” (4:31), “Hazel Is Injured” (2:42) and “Efrafa Chase” (3:04). When you launch this feature, you may think someone goofed, as you’ll simply see the final film footage for those scenes. However, it turns out this is a multi-angle feature; the disc forgets to tell us that, unfortunately. Use that “Angle” button and you can flip from the movie shots to the storyboards to a dual-presentation screen with both. It’s good to compare the boards with the flick’s images, but it would’ve been nice if the DVD was more obvious about how the feature works.
The DE drops the smattering of supplements on the old release. I don’t miss the minor text extras, as they were pretty useless. It’s too bad the theatrical trailer gets the boot, however.
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 DVD provides good picture and sound along with a few useful extras. Despite a few misgivings, Watership Down provides an unusually adult-oriented effort, and animation fans should give it a look.
Fans will definitely want to pursue this 2008 “Deluxe Edition” instead of the original bare-bones effort. While the DE’s extras aren’t extensive, they add some value to the set. The prime attraction of the DE comes from the significant visual improvements, as the new disc offers noticeably stronger picture quality. That makes it a worthwhile “double dip” for fans who already own the prior disc.
To rate this film, visit the Widescreen Edition review of WATERSHIP DOWN