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The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep DVD Review

The Water Horse movie poster The Water Horse

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2007 / Running Time: 112 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jay Russell

Cast: Emily Watson (Anne MacMorrow), Alex Etel (Angus MacMorrow), Ben Chaplin (Lewis Mowbray), David Morrissey (Capt. Thomas Hamilton), Priyanka Xi (Kirstie MacMorrow), Marshall Napier (Sgt. Strunk), Joel Tobeck (Sgt. Walker), Erroll Shand (Lt. Wormsley), Brian Cox (Old Angus)

Buy The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep from Amazon.com: DVD Blu-ray Disc

Walden Media has been keeping very busy lately. With Nim's Island opening in theaters today
and big budget sequel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian just around the corner, the company also has three new movies brought to DVD in a period of six weeks. Next Tuesday, stores get The Water Horse: The Legend of the Deep, distributed by Sony's Columbia Pictures.

The Water Horse (the subtitle is not seen in the actual film) is adapted from a 1990 book by English children's author Dick King-Smith, whose earlier novel The Sheep-Pig was the basis for Babe. Set in 1942 Scotland, the film centers on Angus MacMorrow (Millions lead Alex Etel), a quiet boy who discovers a large egg in the water and brings it home. Hatching from it is an unusual dinosaur-like creature, with whom Angus develops a bond of friendship while not quite coming to terms with his father being a World War II casualty.

Angus MacMorrow (Alex Etel) picks up what appears to be a large egg in an early scene from "The Water Horse." One thing the film can't be faulted for is consistent casting. Anne (Emily Watson), Kirstie (Priyanka Xi), and Angus look very familial while peeking out the window at the newly-arrived army.

The earliest moments with Alex and the animal he names Crusoe (after one of his books) are among the film's strongest. They're reminiscent of other boy with non-verbal friend films, like Free Willy, the press-preferred comparative subject E.T., and director Jay Russell's first major studio release, My Dog Skip. Angus keeps Crusoe's presence a secret from his mother (top-billed but tertiary Emily Watson), and his older sister (Priyanka Xi) doesn't stay interested long enough to discover it. Hijinks with food, water, and a bulldog named Churchill hold our interest without quite elevating the proceedings to high entertainment.

One day, English soldiers show up at the MacMorrow house, where they will be settling indefinitely as part of efforts to defend the nation from potential German attacks. Shortly after, reticent handyman Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin) arrives. Upon learning of Angus' unorthodox pet, Lewis stays mum to Mum but tells the boy that he thinks Crusoe is the lone living member of the mythical race of water horses. As Crusoe grows at a rapid rate, Angus agrees with Lewis that the beloved water horse should be set free. They do that in the Loch Ness, paving the way for tales of spotting a giant monster in that lake, i.e. the Loch Ness Monster.

The Water Horse tries to be a number of things, but doesn't find tremendous success as any of them. The most familiar angle, that of a boy and his pet pal, is one of the better realized, but Alex and Crusoe's friendship doesn't soar the way it needs to. This is a serious shortcoming, since so much of the film relies on us investing in a relationship that's not made palpable.

The MacMorrow's handyman boarder Lewis Mowbray (Ben Chaplin) tries to keep the creature quiet in the toilet, to no avail. My, how you've grown! Crusoe shows off his elongated neck while splashing around in the Loch Ness.

Of course, palpability being an issue would seem to point a figure at the visual effects, being that Crusoe is a character created entirely out of computer-generated imagery. But blame cannot be lobbed at Weta Digital and Weta Workshop, the New Zealand companies employed extensively on the epic fantasies of Lord of the Rings and Narnia's The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
The two Weta divisions do well with the quasi-Kelpie eponymous character. Only in select high-action moments is Crusoe less than perfectly convincing; in intimate scenes, he is rather photorealistic and believably embedded in his surroundings.

Instead, Water Horse fumbles on an emotional level. Most noticeably, it abandons emotion for a prolonged, rain-soaked nighttime climax that may have played well on the big screen but comes up short on DVD. Even before that, the film's interest in war efforts on the home front are at odds with the sweet and far more compelling domestic story. That may be the point, but it's not a very savory one. And though the film is coming from a published novel, it's not too concerned with remaining faithful. King-Smith's text is set in the 1930s and counts sister Kirstie as more of a protagonist than Angus. The World War II motifs are born in the screenplay by Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat, Dinosaur), but it's Russell who leaves them feeling like a needle thrust at the pleasantly inflated balloon that is the film's imagination.

Among recognized brand names, Walden Media has one of the most bizarrely erratic of box office track records. The Water Horse's modest domestic gross of $40 million ($96 M worldwide) seeks to bridge the gap between the clearly profitable and the strangely pitiful (the more populous class). Though the film is still being slowly rolled out to European and Asian markets, a little over three months have passed since Water Horse's Christmas Day American theatrical release. Thus, the time is right for a home video release. Sony is simultaneously debuting the film on Blu-ray Disc and, somewhat surprisingly, a 2-Disc Special Edition DVD. Naturally, we look at the latter.

Buy The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep (2-Disc Special Edition DVD) from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English),
Dolby Surround (French)
Subtitles: English, French
Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 8, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $19.94 (Reduced from $28.96)
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 & DVD-5)
Also available on Blu-ray Disc


Certainly the biggest reason for Water Horse getting two discs is the fact that Sony provides both fullscreen and widescreen viewing formats. Those with any regard for filmmaker intentions will opt to view the latter, which preserves the movie's 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. This is a film which was designed foremost for theaters and a little bit of impact is lost in the jump to DVD, particularly on your standard-sized 4x3 television.

Putting nearly four hours of feature film video on a single-sided disc doesn't pose any compression problems. The 16x9-enhanced transfer looks terrific -- clean, consistent, and as colorful as the period setting allows it. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is equally proficient, making good use of surround channels early on before drowning us with mildly melodramatic James Newton Howard score late in the game. There are expectedly many peaks and valleys in the mix, which makes this one for which to have the remote handy if neighbors or sleeping people are apt to be disturbed.

While Anne is carrying on a conversation, Angus is sneaking out the house behind her back in this deleted scene. "Water Horse" is the first of director Jay Russell's four studio films which doesn't include an audio commentary by him. He makes up for it by having lots to share in the 77 minutes of featurettes. It was a very blue day on the Loch Ness when Angus and Crusoe filmed their fun ride.


All bonus features are relegated to Disc 2. They begin with eight deleted scenes (6:50). As viewed here, it's easy to see why these short moments were deleted;
with the exception of two chances for Mrs. MacMorrow to act motherly, they are unremarkable and unnecessary extensions.

Six featurettes are next. They run 77 minutes with the "Play All" option. Like your typical DVD making-of pieces, they're slickly edited together from talking head interviews, location footage, and movie clips.

"Myths and Legends" (10:25) begins with a short reading of a tale (subtitled to clarify reader Duncan Simpson's thick accent) and follows with a discussion of the Loch Ness Monster and its probability of existing. "The Story" (11:40) tackles the script as well as its themes and, briefly, its text inspiration. "The Characters" (15:30) covers -- you guessed it -- the film's characters, paying special attention to Angus, the three adult leads, Churchill, and the actors and canine who portray them.

"Setting the Scene" (13:25) addresses the challenges and rewards of filming in New Zealand and Scotland, though not in a way that will interest anyone unfamiliar with those places. "Water Work: Creating The Water Horse" (11:35) moves us in a technical direction, as we hear about and see the filming of complex water sequences. Finally, "Creating Crusoe" (14:15) treats us to the inevitable look at Weta's visual effects and what CGI meant for the actors. This type of thing is so frequently documented that only those for whom Water Horse represents a first DVD explored will be really impressed by the legitimately impressive movie magic.

Upon inserting Disc 2, promos play for Surf's Up, Open Season, and Open Season 2. The Previews menu houses these as well as trailers for Daddy Day Camp, Are We Done Yet?, The Final Season, the Sprouse twins' The Prince and the Pauper, Roxy Hunter and the Mystery of the Moody Ghost, "The Spectacular Spider-Man" animated series, The Last Day of Summer/Shredderman Rules!, and Storm Hawks. I'm sure the idea was to promote these other family-friendly Sony properties, but these lousy titles instead serve to underscore how much better Water Horse is by comparison. Sadly, Water Horse's trailer is nowhere to be found.

Both of the discs employ the same main menu design, setting a montage of clips inside a pot full of water.

Water Horse is treated to a cardboard slipcover that, aside from some pleasant holography on the front, merely replicates the artwork below. Besides the two discs, all one finds inside the case is a double-sided ad for animated and live-action Sony family DVDs.

In his adolescence, Crusoe remains still in the bathtub just long enough to get a nice look at him. Angus doesn't mind that he's all wet because he just got one heck of a monster ride.


Despite a promising premise, a capable star in the freckled young Alex Etel, and fine visual effects, The Water Horse never reaches the heights it reasonably aims for. The film's spirited start gives way to an uninspired, overlong war-flavored action climax. Even at its best, the movie's take on familiar circumstances lack enough flair to provide the intended magic. That said, Water Horse is still leagues above many in its genre and has more than enough worth to justify seeing it. Just know that the same little kids who enjoy the cute bathtub antics may very well be scared or bored by the film's more adventurous parts.

For all the fine, well-attended family films given short shrift on DVD, Sony's 2-Disc Special Edition is unexpected. But with only a small handful of forgettable deleted scenes and a whopping 77 minutes of mostly by-the-numbers featurettes, there isn't as much value (and certainly not as much variety) to the set as one might hope for. Still, the feature presentation is solid and those who enjoyed the movie should be fairly satisfied on the whole.

Buy The Water Horse from Amazon.com: DVD / Blu-ray Disc / The Book by Dick King-Smith

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Related Reviews:
Walden Media: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe Bridge to Terabithia Holes Around the World in 80 Days
New to DVD: Juno The Chipmunk Adventure: Special Edition Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street There Will Be Blood
2007 Family Films: The Last Mimzy Bee Movie Enchanted Surf's Up Ratatouille Mr. Bean's Holiday Martian Child Firehouse Dog
Directed by Jay Russell: Tuck Everlasting Ladder 49 | Written by Robert Nelson Jacobs: Dinosaur: Collector's Edition
Fantasy Movies: The Princess Bride: 20th Anniversary Edition The Phoenix & The Carpet | Scotland: Greyfriars Bobby Dear Frankie

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Reviewed April 4, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios, Walden Media, and Beacon Pictures, 2008 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
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