Sunday, May 1, 2016

Back to the Warren: BBC/Netflix To Readapt 'Watership Down' Into A Series

It seems like Richard Adams' classic book has a thing with animation...

Most animation fans know of the first ever adaptation of the book, a 1978 animated feature from director Martin Rosen and British studio Nepenthe. I quite like Watership Down, I think it's a solid adventure story with a healthy dose of darkness, a film that was definitely smack-dab between the overly adult X/R-rated works of Ralph Bakshi and his derivatives, and the family-friendly works of Disney. It's purely a 70s PG film (it was and still is rated U in the UK!), as it would without a doubt get a PG-13 today. Though it has spots of bloody violence, what works about the film is how they tell the story, even though - from what I understand - they really streamlined the book. While its character animation was alright, its watercolor backgrounds were quite nice as was the John Hubley-inspired opening sequence. He was originally set to direct, but left over creative differences.

Though I do think some tend to praise it for all the wrong reasons, it is a favorite of mine. It's also, thankfully, available as a Criterion Collection edition Blu-ray!

Rosen would later adapt another Adams novel, The Plague Dogs, which came out in 1982 and was heavily edited for its limited American release. Good luck finding a copy of the original that agrees with your US video-and-TV setup! I think that film is also great, but one that - because of its dire tone and story - I have little desire to watch again.

In 1999, Watership Down was adapted again, into an animated series that seems to get mixed reception. I've never seen it, but it looks very cutesy compared to the film. Now, it looks like the new BBC version will be somewhere in the middle. A four-hour CGI miniseries starring the likes of John Boyega (as Bigwig), Ben Kingsley (as General Woundwort, perfect casting), James McAvoy (Hazel), Nicholas Hoult (Fiver), Gemma Arterton (Clover), and Olivia Coleman (Strawberry), it is in the works for a 2017 debut. It'll be directed by 300: Rise of an Empire director Noam Murro.

The executive producer of the show said that it will definitely lack the harsh violence, but will keep some darkness in some way or another. He said it "won't shy away from the darkness in the book," and that "visually it won't be as brutal and scarring..." Some may not approve, others may say "okay", I'm just interested to see what they do with it, especially with the four-hour runtime. They also can dive into the rabbit mythology more and then some.

I actually like how downright eerie the film can be. The more successful moments for me are the ones that are uncertain and even on the surreal side. With great scenes of predatory animals like hawks, cats, and badgers, it certainly does a fine job at showing how unpredictable and how brutal nature can be, no different from - and I know some will rip me for this - Bambi. Cowslip's warren also brings a creep factor, as well as Fiver's terrifying vision in the first five minutes and the trippy details of what happened to the warren. If the series keeps that element, I won't mind the lack of throat-rippings and bloodshed.

Either way, I'm interested to see what they do with it? What say you?

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