Director Timur Bekmambetov's Day Watch (Dnevnoi Dozor) is the middle film in a Russian, fantasy-adventure trilogy that began with Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor) and which will conclude next year with Twilight Watch (Sumerechnyy dozor). In 2004, Night Watch became the biggest grossing film in Russian history taking in $16 million at the domestic box office, only to be outdone two years later by Day Watch which grossed more than $30 million. Though the films are stuffed with cultural references targeted at Russian audiences that will mostly go unappreciated by foreigners, there's still plenty for non-Russian, fantasy-adventure fans to enjoy.
If you've not yet seen Night Watch, you're better off starting there. I don't pretend to recall all the fanboy-pleasing, obscurant esoterica unpacked there, nevertheless, for the intrepid neophyte and as a refresher for others, here's the story in broad strokes:
In the middle ages, humans endowed with supernatural powers squared off under the rival banners of Light and Dark. However, the two armies were so evenly matched that total war could only result in the utter destruction of both sides. To avoid this, the faction leaders signed a truce pending the prophesied emergence of a Great One who would tip the balance and ensure victory for one side or the other. In the interim, the truce is to be policed by a Night Watch consisting of champions of Light and a Day Watch consisting of champions of Dark, with justice ultimately administered by an impartial third-party, the Inquisition.
Night Watch revolves around machinations by the Light and Dark forces to recruit or eliminate two potential Great Ones. The principal protagonist is Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) who discovers his supernatural powers and becomes a member of Night Watch. Anton inadvertently drives one potential Great One, the adolescent Egor (Dima Martynov), to align with the Dark, but saves the other, the comely Svetlana (Maria Poroshina), who chooses to join the Light.
In Day Watch, Anton tries to protect Egor; Svetlana tries to protect Anton; and lots of things go really badly for everybody; but not to fear because you see there's this magic chalk that allows its user to undo his or her past mistakes. . .
Fans of television shows like Star Trek: Voyager and Stargate SG-1 (via parallel realities and time travel), and Dallas (via one hell of a dream), will recognize this reset button for what it is and will immediately know what it means for the storyline. Even viewers who've never heard of a reset button before should be able to figure this one out pretty quickly so I don't think it's much of a spoiler to reveal that little that happens in Day Watch (or Night Watch for that matter) amounts to much by the time the credits roll.
Since all returns to the status quo ante in the end, I won't go into detail about the finer points of the elaborately constructed but simple-mined, and ultimately irrelevant plot, except to say that it's as tangled as any daytime soap opera, and twice as contrived.
With no need to worry about the plot, one can focus on the whiz-bang CGI (computer generated imagery) which includes romps around the Gloom (think scary, astral plane), magical car stunts and crashes, and lots of battles among warriors, witches, mages, vampires, and shape-shifters culminating in an apocalyptic clash between Egor and Svetlana. Though I grew bored of it all long before this 146-minute Russian theatrical cut ended, the CGI is always competently rendered and diverse enough to maintain many genre fans' desire for eye candy.
If you saw Night Watch or Day Watch in the theater, you're sure to remember the colorful and graphically inventive subtitles. Well unfortunately, these are dropped from the unrated Blu-ray and DVD releases. In fact, the English subtitles appear to be dubtitles (i.e., transcriptions of the English dub, not translations of the original audio), further eliminating any chance of catching some of the numerous cultural references intended for Russian audiences.
The acting is often larger than life, but more or less in keeping with the script and about what one expects from the genre. However, the line reading on the English dub is atrocious and to be avoided by anybody literate enough to follow the subtitles.
The widescreen framing (2.35:1 aspect ratio) of Day Watch provides plenty of scope for the CGI that drives this film. Encoded in 1080p/AVC video on a single 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray disc, Day Watch looks superb. Aside from one instance of excessive edge-enhancement, and a handful of inconsistent color compositions, I detected no flaws in the visual presentation of the main feature attributable to the transfer. Contrast and sharpness are outstanding throughout, and film grain was retained.
The original Russian audio is provided in 5.1 DTS HD Master Lossless Audio, while 5.1 DTS English, and 5.1 DD Spanish and French dubs are also provided. The high definition audio is frequently underwhelming with dialogue too often front and center and too loud in comparison to the special effects. The heavy metal score is loud and obnoxious with rumbling base, but little dynamic range or depth.
Standard subtitles are provided in English, English for the hearing impaired, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean. As noted above, the innovative multi-colored and graphically-distinct subtitles from the American theatrical release are not offered.
The only HD-enhanced extra on this release is D-Box Motion Control, allowing for seat shaking for viewers with the appropriate gear.
The remaining extras are ported directly from the DVD. These include a feature-length commentary track with director Timur Bekmambetov and an unidentified interviewer, recorded in English. Riddled with long pauses and dry observations, the commentary is a bore. Also included is a 26-minute Making of Day Watch featurette that's informative about the production process, casting and plot, even if a bit overworked. Finally, there's an extensive Day Watch gallery of trailers covering Russian television spots, as well as domestic and international trailers.
Genre fans of Night Watch's first-rate CGI and narratively complex, but intellectually- and morally-simplistic plot, will find more of the same to enjoy in Day Watch. However, despite the pleasing visual look of the main feature, the lack of the stellar theatrical subtitles, and the lackluster audio and bonus materials make this a hard title to recommend buying even for fans of the film. Consider renting now and waiting to see if a better re-release follows the theatrical release of Twilight Watch next year.