- Dina Reviews,Looking at TV and Film
Dina Reviews: Watership Down (Netflix)
- December 16, 2019
It was when I was around twelve that I first read a book called “Watership Down” by Richard Adams. It’s a very fascinating story, part animal story and part magic-realism, about a group of wild rabbits and their struggle for survival in the wilderness. It was an absolutely beautiful book, and I’ve re-read it several times over the years.
When I found out that they’d made an animated movie out of it, and that this movie was going to air on TV, I got really excited…. until I saw the movie. It was made in 1978, and it was ABSOLUTE GARBAGE. They’d taken the beautiful story and butchered it until it was just a rushed, confused mess that barely made any sense. And the rabbits, which had been such entertaining characters in the book, were just a bunch of interchangeable, sad, bleeding bunnies who lived in a nightmare world and died in lots of gruesome ways. Not even Zero Mostel’s genuinely good performance as Kehaar the seagull could save this trainwreck of a movie.
When I later still found that they’d made an animated TV series, I was cautiously optimistic… after all, a three-season series meant they could get in all the character developments and interactions that they botched in the movie, and the rabbits were much easier to tell apart both visually and in behaviour… but, mmmm, well, I wasn’t impressed. While I don’t loathe the TV series like I loathe the movie, it sort of has the opposite problem: It’s too light and soft, the entire thing’s been simplified and dumbed down to become more kid-friendly. A couple of the episodes were good, but I’ll be honest and say I lost interest somewhere during the first season.
And then, when I last year discovered that Netflix and BBC were making a four-part CGI miniseries…. I had no idea what to expect. Would third time be a charm, or was Watership Down doomed to receive only sub-par adaptations?
Actually, the Netflix series is without a doubt the best adaptation of the book so far.
It’s not perfect. The animation isn’t super-impressive, despite a high budget… the movements are sometimes weird and the rabbits can again be a little hard to tell apart… though THANKFULLY they have more character and personality than in the putrid 1978 movie. Sometimes it strays a little far from the original plot, and I was disappointed to see that some of the most iconic key moments had been left out of the retelling… seriously, there’s this BIG moment in the book that I was really looking forward to seeing in this miniseries, and they were leading up to it brilliantly… and then it just NEVER HAPPENED.
But all in all, I think the Netflix series comes closer to the book in tone and feel than either of the previous adaptations. It’s not a gore-filled nightmare fest like the movie, but unlike the TV series it doesn’t shy away from showing the seriousness of the rabbits’ situation either. Plus, it gives the girls more to do, and that’s never a bad thing.
Of the four episodes, I think the first two are the best. They have the most character interaction and the best pacing. Towards the end the series does get a little rushed, perhaps because there are suddenly too many characters around for anyone to really get room to breathe… maybe it would have been better if they’d made this a six-episode series? Yes, I know, the book is divided into four parts, so it made sense to make four episodes, but… they already strayed enough from the original story that they might as well have added the two extra eps to really let the second half of the story breathe, as well as give some more screen-time to some of the chars that vanished a little in the story’s second half.
Still, it was an adaptation that kept my interest from start to finish. It’s not AS good as the book, but it’s pretty good in its own right. I might actually watch it a second time, and that’s something I can’t say about either the movie or the TV series.