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Watership Down

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In case anyone else did the "Wait, what? What are we anticipating? "  thing along with me.  Here's a link to the press for this.  Apparently Netflix and BBC are going to produce another animated series.  Story here.

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Love love love the book.  So much,  I bought an animation cel from the film (Hazel and Fiver). I may have to get Netflix so I can watch this. 

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Is this thing ever going to air?  /WTF.  I have high hopes for something far better than the animated movie that is now several decades old.

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I will be rereading the book soon in preparation. I have never seen the movie, but read the book the first time back in 1979 for my 8th grade Language Arts class. After getting past page 56 (my sticking point for some reason), I flew through it and loved it.

I remember my older cousin calling me out of the blue a few months later. She had to read it for her high school English class, which she didn’t do, so after her mom said that she thought my mom had mentioned that I had read it for school, she called me to get a synopsis for her test the next day (no Cliffs Notes were available for the book yet—too soon after publication). So I pulled out my book and gave her a very detailed 45-minute long summary. She got an A on the test! 

I didn’t read it again until I came across it at the library in 2006. I wondered if it was as good as I remembered and decided to give it a try. Loved it even more!! So I bought a copy for myself and read it a time or two more over the past decade.

 Once several years ago, someone on a forum was discussing a scene on tv where one mild-mannered character was paired up with a more showy, pushy guy, and after blowharding a bit to the big bad, the pushy guy steps aside and lets the quieter guy take the big bad out with the force of his argument. The poster just said, “It was very “My Chief Rabbit told me to hold this run,” and I knew exactly what she meant. The big bad was shocked when he realized the pushy guy was not the one in charge of the situation.

Bigwig is a fan favorite, but Hazel-Rah’s leadership is so compelling to read.

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Did anyone else watch this yet? I binged over Christmas and have definitely divided feelings.

First off, it's easily one of my favorite books in all the world. I've read it so many times I can't count them since childhood.

So -- my take, here goes and wish me luck. Please note that SPOILERS will apply -- this  is a Netflix show and we won't have a multiple episodes thread!

Overall... I liked it a lot. But it also drove me nuts.

A rundown of pros and cons:

  • The rabbits are (early on) hard to distinguish from one another. And yes, it appears the character designers worked from hares and not rabbits, which is a boneheaded and irritating realization. The ears are wrong. Ignore it. But oh, they are all so pretty. I love that Fiver has two mismatched eyecolors. Loved Hazel's green eyes, and Clover and Bluebell's blue innocent eyes.
  • The animation was heavily criticized by many, but I loved it and had few complaints, except that every once in awhile, a specific element would be just terrible. Like, um, the dog. WTF was up with the terrible cartoonish dog that still looked like it needed another dozen layers of rendering?
  • But. The voice acting is beyond reproach in all roles. Absolutely superb.
  • But. So many foundations from the book are set up and then abandoned. Why? Blackberry and the raft. Dandelion and his swiftness. These are both huge sequences, too. Why go through all that and forget about them for their parts in the final big moments?? WHY?
    It felt like bad writing. These echoes are built into the climaxes of the story --
    Spoiler

    Dandelion outrunning the dog, Blackberry realizing he can save them all on the boat from pursuit by Efrafa.

    The movie versions are unnecessarily dumbed-down and worse, not nearly as believable, fun or exciting.
  • Why make Fiver's skill something he refuses to call on? That's just weird to me. It's so much a part of him in the books. And it means in the second two-thirds he's pretty much a non-character.
  • I did love the changes to include more females, especially Strawberry as a doe, and Clover as a potential mate to Hazel. Just beautifully done.
  • But why delete so much gorgeous dialogue? SO much of the original dialogue was better -- as with the cat confrontation: "Can you run? I think not." Or the arrival to the Downs: "It's as if Frith made it just for us!"
    I missed so many of those moments. I understand that novel-to-film means we lost lots of stuff. But so much of Adams's dialogue was so searing and perfect and just hatcheted-away here.
  • I was so bummed at Fiver not recapping Cowslip's warren to them "For El-ahrairah to cry" -- a lost opportunity. And I wish they'd kept Strawberry losing a loved one in her decision to leave.
  • Why remove Fiver as the rescuer of Hazel, who KNEW WHERE HE WAS? Why make it only Clover? Who just runs around yelling for Hazel? It just felt silly and stupid to me. Fiver is prepared to lead them where they need to go. SIGH.
  • I loved Woundwort's terribly sad and moving origin story. BUT. Why show Woundwort's origin story and leave out the factor of MEN? That it was his fear and hatred of MEN (not foxes) that built him into who he is? MEN made Woundwort determined to protect Efrafa at all costs from discovery (hence, the Mark system, etc.).
  • Again -- why leave out the boat but leave the stream? It just felt weird and haphazard. The escape via water is so cinematic and almost magical in the book. Why abandon that so that they just "run away"--?
  • Still. The arrival of Kehaar on the wings of the rain and thunder was absolutely gorgeous. I got chills. I loved it so much I watched it two more times. And Capaldi was wonderful in the role.
  • But. Why have the Black Rabbit act like Hazel is auditioning for greatness? Hazel's near death and she's like, "If you're good enough, you can join my Owsla," and I was like... GAH. It grossed me out. So much more moving in the book for him to be honored by El-ahrairah simply for who he was.
  • Things I loved however -- Clover and Hazel's instant connection, and her integration into the plot. I loved her character design too; she was always so recognizable.
  • The segment in Cowslip's warren. Just beautifully presented. Right down to Bigwig and the wire. (But then they removed Fiver's description of the devil's bargain they had made to live there. Although I loved when Strawberry tried to introduce them to her friend... only to realize he was another one gone.)
  • Clover's time in Efrafa. Just unexpectedly complex and moving.
  • I loved the visual design of Efrafa because it affected me so much emotionally it was like looking at some vague echo of Auschwitz. It's just absolutely terrifying.
  • I loved Blackberry and Bluebell but felt like they were being set up as a couple and then abandoned (like, whups, nobody's gay, we were just kidding).
  • Bigwig chose Strawberry? That just did not work for me at all. We never even see them fricking speak to each other. Just... I almost wish Strawberry had chosen no one but I guess that would not have been an animal choice. Sigh.
  • I loved Hazel's talk with the Black Rabbit when injured.  Gorgeous voice work. Except that she sort of taunts him with a place in her Owsla (as noted above) which I found gross.
  • I love seeing Holly's mission in full and his quiet feelings for Hyzenthlay. They were really lovely together and this gave me a real appreciation for Holly as a character.
  • But... why have Hazel dictate to Bigwig in the final chapter? It's so much more moving that it is simply Bigwig saying, "My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this burrow" than to know Hazel dictated it. It just robs the moment of its power. It's the WHOLE POINT. Woundwort and the Efrafans are terrified going, "OMG who could be worse than Bigwig?" not realizing that Hazel is a great leader for reasons beyond warfare. I love that he's the lame rabbit nobody looks at twice in the books.
  • I loved Fiver as the rabbit in the hrududil. And loved his final goodbye to Hazel. We can see that he knows he is about to lose the person he loves most.
  • But... DAMMIT. Why wimp out and show an empty grassy shore after the Black Rabbit comes? It robs the moment. We know he's gone. The show has not shirked death before. Why NOW, when we already know Hazel will live on? It would have been so much more moving to see Hazel's body there, peacefully sleeping, as in the animated version from decades back. We could see Hazel abandon his body to go follow the balance and energy of El-ahrairah (who was also the Black Rabbit there). 

Overall, I thought it was a lovely if slightly disappointing adaptation. In terms of fidelity, the 80s version was better. Even if almost deliberately ugly in its animation style. While I thought this version was seriously gorgeous to look at (aside from some almost astonishingly badly rendered elements), but I just did not understand so many of their story choices. Which felt so arbitrary and loosened the beautiful plot Adams had already built in the novel.

But LAST BUT OH GOD NOT LEAST -- THE SONG. WHAT THE FUCK was up with that truly cringeworthy Sam Smith credits song? I mean, it's just... laughably bad. It's all about romance and seduction and lust and I'm like... WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH WATERSHIP DOWN. I swear to God they hired him and just said "we need another Bond song." It's just so comically terrible.

The irony is: The "Bright Eyes" sequence from the original adaptation is easily one of my favorite things about it, ever. It's a gorgeous song, it's haunting and instantly recognizable as being about death, and the animated component of the song is seriously the most beautiful in the previous movie -- it's playful and sad, haunting and elusive. Slapping on this incredibly terrible Sam Smith song here just seems like an abomination.

Anyway.

Looking forward to other people's thoughts! It's such a beautiful adaptation in some ways... I just do not understand some of the writing choices at all. Which were like "We will now needlessly destroy a perfect moment from the book. Here's how!"

Edited by paramitch · Reason: I forgot to mention the SONG (also spoilered one key book reference)
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@paramitch I also watched this and echo a lot of your thoughts.  I have seen the movie though I don't remember much about it, except that I think Pipkin is killed while in the Netflix/BBC adaption Pipkin doesn't exist.  He's not a central character but he remains steadfastly by Hazel all through their adventures, even though Pipkin is small and a nervous type, so I missed him.

I also thought it was a good move to make Strawberry a female and I liked the bond between Clover and Hazel, with a couple of exceptions.  I didn't like when Hazel only wanted to push forward for Clover, as when they are waiting for Bigwig to get out with the rabbits from Efrafa.  Hazel was always committed to the entire group and would never have wanted to let Bigwig down, or any of his rabbits.   IMO too much time was spent in Efrafa that wasn't necessary; I would rather have had more time with Kehaar and seen the friendship develop between him and Bigwig.   I also didn't like Clover running to rescue Hazel instead of Fiver.

8 hours ago, paramitch said:

It's so much more moving that it is simply Bigwig saying, "My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this burrow" than to know Hazel dictated it. It just robs the moment of its power. It's the WHOLE POINT.

I agree so, so much.   When Bigwig tells Woundwort "My Chief Rabbit and told me to defend this run and until he says otherwise, I shall stay here" - when I first read this, I got chills.  It is one of my favorite literature moments.  Bigwig refusing to back down and being loyal to Hazel cements the group's absolute trust and faith in each other.  To have Hazel tell Bigwig to say it cheapens the moment, as it comes across as ploy to scare the Efrafrans rather than what it actually was.  This was my least favorite part of the series.

I would have preferred Holly's entrance to be similar to the book version, when Hazel and Bigwig hear him calling and Bigwig thinks he is the Black Rabbit but Hazel pushes by Bigwig to go see for himself.  This is an important moment in their relationship and shows Hazel's bravery (low key compared to Bigwig) and his leadership.  I though BBC Bigwig was a bit too antagonistic; the show didn't need to hammer home all the time that there were doubts about Hazel being Chief Rabbit.

8 hours ago, paramitch said:

I loved Fiver as the rabbit in the hrududil. And loved his final goodbye to Hazel. We can see that he knows he is about to lose the person he loves most.

I liked this book change as well - it just worked.  It didn't have to be Hazel, as in the book.  Like you, I wish they had used the cast of characters more as they did in the book, but this particular change worked and was fitting.

I also had trouble telling the rabbits apart but the animation didn't bother me.    I thought Woundwort was suitably scary looking.  I do wish they had kept "Dogs aren't dangerous! Come back and fight!"

Even with these points, I did really like this adaptation.   The voice work was excellent.  The spirit of the book was there in full.  Even though I've read the book many times so have an idea of what's going to happen, I was involved with this all the way through.  I hope it gains a good following and encourages people to read the book. 

I liked the opening segment about how Frith made the world.  I would have liked at least one of the El-ahrairah stories told in a similar fashion - we don't get a huge sense about how important he is to the rabbits and it is El-ahrairah who appears to Hazel at his death, not the Black Rabbit.

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5 hours ago, raven said:

...in the Netflix/BBC adaption Pipkin doesn't exist.  He's not a central character but he remains steadfastly by Hazel all through their adventures, even though Pipkin is small and a nervous type, so I missed him.

I missed Pipkin too! It gave Fiver another similarly small companion and emphasized that a lot of the original party were little outskirters not getting a fair shake (speaking of which, I thought the departure battle was unnecessary). I also missed Silver as a character.

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I didn't like when Hazel only wanted to push forward for Clover, as when they are waiting for Bigwig to get out with the rabbits from Efrafa.  Hazel was always committed to the entire group and would never have wanted to let Bigwig down, or any of his rabbits. 

Agreed. I thought they pushed the Hazel/Clover thing much more than necessary (Hyzenthlay's and Holly's however I just loved). 

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IMO too much time was spent in Efrafa that wasn't necessary; I would rather have had more time with Kehaar and seen the friendship develop between him and Bigwig.

I agree. I also thought some sequences were just weirdly drawn out for very little payoff -- Efrafa, the "inside the farmer's house" scenes, and especially the bloated sequence at the road/town in the end (that ends up having very little to do with their escape at all --I'm still so angry Blackberry's boat wasn't used).

I kept waiting for Bigwig and Kehaar's big connection and really missed that. Bigwig's book-admiration for Kehaar is so wonderful and I hated that the rescue was ruined the first time here simply because Kehaar was being a selfish ass. 

I also missed the "I've sent for the white bird, Hazel," moment before the Efrafans.

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I would have preferred Holly's entrance to be similar to the book version, when Hazel and Bigwig hear him calling and Bigwig thinks he is the Black Rabbit but Hazel pushes by Bigwig to go see for himself.  This is an important moment in their relationship and shows Hazel's bravery (low key compared to Bigwig) and his leadership.  I though BBC Bigwig was a bit too antagonistic; the show didn't need to hammer home all the time that there were doubts about Hazel being Chief Rabbit.

I agree with this 100%. I also wished Bigwig would cool it a little. 

On Holly, I will say I thought that Sandleford scenes were seriously harrowing, and I teared up a little (and was relieved when they didn't show more than they did).

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I thought Woundwort was suitably scary looking.  I do wish they had kept "Dogs aren't dangerous! Come back and fight!"

Such a great moment! It just shows you how absolutely bonkers Woundwort is.

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I liked the opening segment about how Frith made the world.  I would have liked at least one of the El-ahrairah stories told in a similar fashion - we don't get a huge sense about how important he is to the rabbits and it is El-ahrairah who appears to Hazel at his death, not the Black Rabbit.

I loved the opening about Frith and the animals (and the style of it too), but I wish they had kept El-ahrairah's hubris and then his running away and digging, and Frith blessing his bottom because he is in the hole digging.

And oh, me too on the stories! I got so psyched every single time someone would start to tell a story, and then I'd slowly get bummed out, realizing we would not actually hear or see the story (and they are so wonderful!). I just wish a few more had made it into the story -- I think "The Black Rabbit of Inle" would have been ESSENTIAL (and provided much-needed pathos and context), and done in the same style as the opening, would have been an interlude of the same visual coolness as the Deathly Hallows tale, for instance, in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (I think it's part 1). 

A far as the ending... I prefer the book version and previous, because in the previous film adaptation the Black Rabbit basically IS El-ahrairah and that worked okay for me from a poetic standpoint, and because he speaks to Hazel at the end as El-ahrairah, and we get the wonderful dialogue where Hazel recognizes him, and then their spirits go off together.

Here, I just felt like the Black Rabbit doesn't work as well -- I loved making the Black Rabbit a female, but the payoff of the book is that EL-AHRAIRAH IS REAL. And he has been watching Hazel and his friends! To me that was such a lovely revelation -- Hazel seeing the starlight in his ears and realizing who was next to him. 

But I'm probably being all book-puristy and pedantic. 

I thought this was lovely but ... unfortunately -- for me, the definitive adaptation is still out there.

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18 hours ago, paramitch said:

But I'm probably being all book-puristy and pedantic. 

I have this problem.  It's difficult for me sometimes, especially if I really love a book, as I do this one.   Some adaptions are done really well (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell comes to mind) and though this Watership Down adaptation wasn't bad at all, some changes bugged me.

I would be interested to hear what non-book readers thought and if they found any of the rabbit terms confusing. 

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On 12/27/2018 at 5:58 PM, raven said:

I have this problem.  It's difficult for me sometimes, especially if I really love a book, as I do this one.   Some adaptions are done really well (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell comes to mind) and though this Watership Down adaptation wasn't bad at all, some changes bugged me.

I would be interested to hear what non-book readers thought and if they found any of the rabbit terms confusing. 

Oh, I thought JONATHAN STRANGE was marvelous! Just fantastic. A gorgeous gorgeous adaptation.

I would be interested in feedback from non-readers here too.

I had an interesting situation -- I posted about this on Facebook, and a few book-reader friends responded that they had decided not to watch, and I responded actually urging them to reconsider. It made me realize that I did actually like this enough to give it a guarded recommendation.

Yes, I wish they'd made some other decisions here and there, but I do think it is a beautiful, if flawed, adaptation, and that it deserves to be seen.

And I do salute the fact that, even as a book-reader, the adaptation here thrilled me with some searing, beautiful unexpected moments: 

  • The character designs, especially for Hazel, Fiver, Clover, Bigwig, Woundwort, and Hyzenthlay.
  • Strawberry as a doe (and her desperate wish for friendship)
  • Strawberry's realization her friend was dead
  • Bigwig and the Wire
  • Seeing the Sandleford destruction
  • Efrafa as this kind of rabbit-Auschwitz (just so horrifying!)
  • Hazel's instant connection with Clover
  • Bluebell and Blackberry's bromance (cough romance)
  • Holly as a more featured character (loved him in Efrafa and with Hyzenthlay)

Also, something I didn't catch the first time -- when I rewatched the final 5-10 minutes, after the scene with Hazel and the Black Rabbit, we can faintly hear that Bluebell (after the chorus of kittens to tell "The Story of Hazel-rah") is now reciting, as his story... the opening lines of "Watership Down." ("The primroses were over...")

That's a gorgeous little detail.


 

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On 12/27/2018 at 7:58 PM, raven said:

I would be interested to hear what non-book readers thought and if they found any of the rabbit terms confusing. 

I just watched this. I have never read the book or seen the previous animated movie. I liked it. Some of the mythology I was confused about, but I just went with it. I did have a bit of a time telling some of the rabbits apart, but I loved Fiver and his visions.

I never knew that like deer, rabbits are called bucks and does.

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