Every 20 years or so, it seems another adaptation of Richard Adams' classic Watership Down arrives. If you know it, you may have read the book for school, or you may have caught the 1999 cartoon miniseries, or, more probably, you may have seen Martin Rosen's beautiful 1978 version, perhaps rented for you by a parent who thought movies with animated animals are always child-appropriate. Anyone with that preconceived notion would have been disabused of it fairly quickly, as the rabbits' home is destroyed and they embark on a perilous journey.
Noam Murro, who directed Netflix and BBC's new joint production of Watership Down, is no stranger to ultraviolence, having come directly from 2014's bloody, stylized 300 follow-up 300: Rise of an Empire. But, he explained to Thrillist, though Watership Down has plenty of unexpected fear and violence mixed in with its deeply allegorical plot, that's part of what makes it so special.
Thrillist: How were you approached to adapt this book?
Murro: You know, I wasn't aware of the book, actually, as a child. A colleague of mine came to me one day and said, you should make this book. And I read it and I fell in love with it. I started the very long process of getting the rights, I got the rights, and then we started the very long process of adapting it. At first there was talk of making it into a feature film, and very quickly I understood that if you have this kind of depth, you need the platform to have a much deeper investigation, rather than just relegating it into 90 minutes.
What made getting the rights to the book so complicated?
Murro: The rights owner was Martin Rosen, who made the first film. It was over conversations and many, many, many lunches and plane tickets to be able to really convince him to allow me to take this. He just wanted to make sure, I guess, that it was in the right hands. So, it was just a complicated process of talking about it, making sure that he understands that I understand what this is all about. It's like any other endeavor of that kind. You're dealing with a national treasure, with something that has so much resonance for so many people. It's just always complicated.
Was it ever intimidating to develop this story that is so famous and has all these weird esoteric elements and complex politics in it?
Murro: When I became friends with Alvin Sargent [screenwriter of Ordinary People], we went once to breakfast, and he said to me, "You know, Noam, what I want on my tombstone?" And I said, "Alvin, what is it?" And he said, "Finally, a plot." It really stuck with me all these years. That idea of a plot: That is the form in which great things are made. So, first and foremost, when I thought about the book, it's that there is the plot. And then, what makes it a fantastic piece of art is that it accomplishes all of these allegorical and social issues, but it doesn't wear all these things on its sleeve -- they're embedded in it, whether they're God, organized religion, migration, the idea of home, loyalty, friendship, environmental issues, our relationship with animals, the relationship of animals with themselves.