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  • Writer's pictureGareth Bennett

396. Watership Down (1978; Martin Rosen, John Hubley; Film)

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Timeless. Haunting. Bleak. Brilliant.

Directed by Martin Rosen (and John Hubley) with a screenplay by Rosen, adapted from the novel of the same name by, Richard Adams.

It's a claustrophobic nightmare about a warren of rabbits torn apart by fear and madness when their entire world is literally turned upside down after their warren is threatened by humans. The rabbits have to choose a path: stay and die or run and face the unknown? Below this high concept animated adventure, lies a deep and universal tale of sacrifice and faith.

The beautiful art direction is composed of water-coloured animation. Still frames blur and morph with the music, as seemingly still watercolor paintings, come to life. Blood runs, crooked teeth threaten behind frothed lips and black eyes quake with terror.

The most horrific scene is a dream-sequence / nightmare-reality of what happened to the Rabbits who stayed back in the warren. It still haunts my dreams and has since I first saw this movie in the late 70s / early 80s. In fact, this brief sequence is all I recalled of the film as I pressed play.

The evocative, frantic soundtrack by Angela Morley is iconic. With layered brass and strings that always hint at something darker. Interestingly, I just read online that Morley had only one month to score Watership Down, as she was brought on late to the production. I assume, for a composer, this is a handicap. But in some ways, as an artist, it can be a gift to have so tight a deadline. I personally get more quality work done in less time than when I have all the time in the world. But that’s me.

The evil rabbit Woundwort (perfect name!) and the lingering mystery of what becomes of him is so fantastic and fucked up. The raw bravado of his actions turn your fear of him almost instantly to respect. So few antagonists achieve this in film. They are the “bad guys” who are evil for evil sake. I rarely respect the antagonists. Even in films with great baddies like, Seven, Silence of the Lambs, Star Wars, etc. I root for the good guys and rarely for the forces working against them. But with Woundwort, my feelings for him shifted in that last moment.

I guess I’m a softy who will always, and I mean ALWAYS root for the underdog.

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