It features the voices of John Hurt, Richard Briers, Harry Andrews, Simon Cadell, Nigel Hawthorne and Roy Kinnear, among others, and was the last film work of Zero Mostel, as the voice of Kehaar the gull. The musical score was by Angela Morley and Malcolm Williamson. Art Garfunkel's hit song "Bright Eyes", which was written by songwriter Mike Batt, briefly features.
In Lapine language mythology, the world was created by the god Frith. All animals were grass eaters, living harmoniously. The rabbits multiplied, and their appetite led to a food shortage. Frith ordered the rabbit prince, El-Ahrairah, to control his people, but was scoffed at. In retaliation, Frith gave special gifts to every animal, making some into predators to control the rabbits. Satisfied that El-Ahrairah has learned his lesson, Frith gives rabbits the gifts of speed and cunning.
In the present, in a warren near Sandleford, a rabbit seer named Fiver has an apocalyptic vision and takes his older brother Hazel to beg the chief for evacuation. The chief dismisses them, and orders Captain Holly, the head of the warren's Owsla police force, to stop those trying to leave. Fiver and Hazel along with other rabbits named Bigwig, Blackberry, Pipkin, Dandelion, Silver, and Violet manage to escape, passing a sign (meaningless to them) confirming that a residential development is coming.
They journey through the woods, avoiding several dangerous situations until Violet – the group's only doe – is killed by a hawk. The others eventually meet a rabbit named Cowslip, who invites them to his warren, where a farmer leaves Cowslip's group ample vegetables. They are grateful, but Fiver leaves when he senses something unsettling in the atmosphere. Bigwig follows, berating Fiver for causing tension, when a snare catches Bigwig. Bigwig's friends manage to free him, and Fiver learns that the farmer is protecting and feeding Cowslip's warren so that he can snare rabbits for his own meals. The group returns to its journey.
The rabbits discover Nuthanger Farm, which contains a hutch of domesticated does. Before they can free the females, the farm cat and dog chase them away. Later, they are found by Captain Holly, who recounts the destruction of Sandleford by humans as well as vicious rabbits called the "Efrafans". Fiver finally finds the hill he envisioned, Watership Down, where the group settles in with Hazel as their new chief.
They soon befriend an injured black-headed seagull named Kehaar, who flies out in search of does. That night, the rabbits return to Nuthanger Farm to free the does, but an attempt to free them fails which ends with Hazel getting shot. Fiver follows a vision of the mythical Black Rabbit to his injured brother. Kehaar returns and, while pecking out buckshot from Hazel's leg with his beak, reports of the many does at the large Efrafa warren. Captain Holly describes it as a dangerous totalitarian state, but Hazel feels they must go there. Bigwig infiltrates the warren and is made an Owsla officer by their cruel chief, General Woundwort. Bigwig recruits several potential escapees to his cause, including Blackavar and Hyzenthlay. With Kehaar's help, the escapees find a boat to float down the river. That night, Kehaar leaves for his homeland with the gratitude of the warren.
Efrafan trackers eventually find Watership Down. Woundwort rejects Hazel's offer of peace and demands that all deserters must be turned over or Watership Down will be wiped out. While the Watership rabbits barricade their warren, Fiver slips into a trance, in which he envisions a dog loose in the woods. His mumblings inspire Hazel to try and retrieve the farm dog and lead it to the Efrafans. When they arrive at the farm, Hazel unties the dog and releases it while Blackberry, Dandelion and Hyzenthlay use themselves as bait to make the animal follow them. Meanwhile, the Efrafans break through the warren's defences. Woundwort easily slays Blackavar, then violently battles with Bigwig. When the dog arrives and starts attacking the Efrafan soldiers, Woundwort fearlessly stands his ground and viciously lunges at the dog. However, no trace of Woundwort is ever found which leaves his fate a mystery.
Several years later, an elderly Hazel is visited by the Black Rabbit, who invites him to join his own Owsla, assuring him of Watership Down's perpetual safety. Reassured, Hazel accepts and dies peacefully. His spirit follows the Black Rabbit through the woodland and trees towards the Sun, which metamorphoses into Frith, and the afterlife, as Frith's advice to El-Ahrairah is heard once more.
- John Hurt as Hazel
- Richard Briers as Fiver
- Michael Graham Cox as Bigwig
- John Bennett as Captain Holly
- Ralph Richardson as the Threarah
- Simon Cadell as Blackberry
- Terence Rigby as Silver
- Roy Kinnear as Pipkin
- Richard O'Callaghan as Dandelion
- Denholm Elliott as Cowslip
- Lynn Farleigh as Tab
- Mary Maddox as Clover
- Zero Mostel as Kehaar
- Harry Andrews as General Woundwort
- Hannah Gordon as Hyzenthlay
- Nigel Hawthorne as Campion
- Clifton Jones as Blackavar
- Derek Griffiths as Vervain and Chervil
- Michael Hordern as Lord Frith
- Joss Ackland as Black Rabbit of Inlé and El-Ahrairah
- Michelle Price as Lucy
Release and reception Edit
Watership Down was first released to the UK on 19 October 1978, and was later released in the United States on 1 November 1978, for the latter, the movie was distributed by AVCO Embassy Pictures.
The film was an immediate success at the UK box office and has received a mostly positive critical reception, with an 82% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 34 reviews. The critical consensus reads: "Aimed at adults perhaps more than children, this is a respectful, beautifully animated adaptation of Richard Adams' beloved book."
The film was nominated for Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1979. In 2004, the magazine Total Film named Watership Down the 47th greatest British film of all time and it was also ranked 15th in the "100 Greatest Tearjerkers".
Investors in the film reportedly received a return of 5,000% on their investment. Jake Eberts said people who invested the original $50,000 got a return of ten times their investment.
A picture book adaptation was also produced, titled The Watership Down Film Picture Book. Two editions of the book were published, one a hardcover, the other a reinforced cloth-bound edition. The contents include film stills linked with a combination of narration and extracts from the script, as well as a preface by Adams and a foreword by Rosen.
Home media releasesEdit
Watership Down was initially released on VHS in the UK by Thorn EMI Video, then later by Guild Home Video and later by Polygram Video. It was given a DVD release in 2001 by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and another in 2005 from Warner Home Video.
In the US, Watership Down was first released on CED in 1981, and was given a VHS release in 1983 by Warner Home Video. The film was re-released a number of times on VHS in the US from Warner Home Video, and was released on DVD in the US in 2002 and again in 2008.
A UK Blu-ray for the film was planned to be released in 2010, but due to a rights dispute between Euro-London Films, Universal Pictures, and Warner Bros., the release was canceled. Warner eventually put out a BD release in Germany, where it held distribution rights. The UK Blu-ray was eventually released in 2013 by Universal using the same HD master as on Warner's 2008 DVD and 2011 German Blu-Ray release. In 2014, Euro-London Films acquired the remaining US rights from Warner Bros (who had held US distribution rights since the 1980s) and licensed the film to The Criterion Collection for release on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming in 2015 and Janus Films for theatrical repertory runs.