Anchor Bay // 1969 // 107 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // December 4th, 2000
A man and his otter.
Ring of Bright Water is the 1969 film adaptation of Gavin Maxwell's novel and is a moving, bittersweet, yet joyous tale of a man who gives up the rat race of life in the city and moves to a quiet cottage to write and interact with his new pet, an otter named Mij. This languidly paced story follows the pair and the female doctor he befriends along their quiet adventures (and misadventures). Quietly funny, emotional, and again bittersweet, this is a fine film for most children and their parents to enjoy. Anchor Bay has now released this little known film on DVD with an anamorphic transfer but few extras.
Graham Merrill (Bill Travers) is a London executive who is taken by an otter he sees in a pet store window. Quickly finding out that an otter and a city apartment do not mix, he reads about a cottage in Scotland by the sea, and decides to give up his position to lead a quiet life writing in a place that Mij, his otter, will find a better home. Though most of the people in the village find a man with an otter odd to say the least, the local doctor (Virginia McKenna) takes to both of them and visits often. The film is one of friendship and love, both of man to animal and of man and woman.
Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna were married until his death in 1994, and were both avid animal lovers. The pair co-starred in the 1966 film Born Free, and Travers co-wrote the script, along with noted animal film director Jack Couffer. As the two were in that better known film, they provide a quiet assurance to their roles and the chemistry between them comes naturally. The whole film has that natural, realistic feel that makes you think each event is really happening rather than being part of a fictional tale.
A heartwarming tale it is too, as the playful otter steals many scenes with his antics, and the humans follow along and care for him. The film is simply wonderful to look at; it is indeed hard to mess up with Scottish countryside and the surrounding sea. It is often funny, as otters are one of the most playful animals around, and it is easy to see them as almost human in their demeanor and agility. Still, the otter is most at home in the water, and there are many scenes showing him in his natural habitat. Ultimately the film fills in the gap between nature documentary and human story, and does it surprisingly well.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in making the film, beyond the typical problems of working with animals, was having both a dog and an otter interact. Normally these two species are natural enemies, and dogs would typically attack. Fortunately the otter apparently didn't know he was an otter and the dog didn't realize he was a dog, and they got along famously.
Anchor Bay gives anamorphic transfers to every film they can, and have done so here. Due to the age of the film, the colors are a bit faded, but the source print is very clean and free of nicks and defects. Some grain is evident is some brightly lit scenes but nothing is really distracting. The image quality is good but not great; while colors remain balanced and do not bleed, the level of detail is a bit soft. Whites did not have quite the brightness I would have liked; sometimes looking a bit on the gray side. Still, the film is very watchable and as I said the scenery is worth watching all by itself. The audio is a two-channel mono track, and while it won't astound any listeners, it does what is asked of it, which is to provide clear dialogue and music without hiss or distortion.
Unfortunately, the disc falls short in other areas. No subtitles remains an inexcusable lack with Anchor Bay discs, which deprives the deaf and hard of hearing community from also enjoying the film. I would have greatly liked to hear a commentary track or learn more about the film, but only a brief bit of notes in the liner and the theatrical trailer are provided as extras.
The film is rated G and should be appropriate for family viewing, but I feel I should caution readers about having very small children watch it without parental supervision. There are some moments that might scare or trouble the younger viewers, and some that border on tragic. Perhaps that is simply the way it had to be told, but I would have liked the film better, and would have recommended it for young children wholeheartedly, if the story hadn't gone in that direction.
For family entertainment and a beautiful picture with animals and Scotland in it, rent or pick up this disc. The lack of extras would lean my recommendation toward the rental side. Parents should watch it with their small children, but I believe the parents will enjoy the film as much or more than the kids.
The makers of the film are acquitted though I maintain my reservations about the more troubling moments in the film. Anchor Bay is again fined for lack of subtitles but commended for their commitment to anamorphic transfers.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Production Notes