Day Watch
Fox // Unrated // $27.98 // October 30, 2007
Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted October 23, 2007
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Graphical Version
Divided supernatural forces never seem to get along, do they? They're always fighting over some earth-moving relic that'll rock the universe from its hinges. Of course, outlandish conflict is so much more fun, right? Director Timur Bekmambetov's second "city fantasy" film, Day Watch (Dnevnoi Dozor), shows us ways in which this chaos can be both more compelling and utterly dumbfounding. Getting lost in his horror-ish science fiction world is an easy feat, especially when he exercises control on those signature scorching visuals. What results is Bekmambetov's effort to pave a path for Day Watch's magnetic characters and marginally gripping narrative. In conjunction, this nonsensical, hectic rollercoaster somehow becomes a more rewarding and usurping slice of visual splendor than its originator.

Note: This is labeled as the Unrated Edition of Day Watch, but after a bit of digging I believe this is the original Russian edit of the movie instead of the International Theatrical version. Runtime for this Unrated edition is right around 146 minutes.

The Film:

In this second Watch film of the eventual trilogy, following Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor), the fate of the world once again comes under scrutiny in a way that, as expected, balances on the clash between the opposing Watches that lurk the streets. Wars have been fought between the Light and Dark sides of these mystical "other" individuals, spreading back to medieval times. Long ago, battle escalated over a very powerful relic - a stick of chalk dubbed The Chalk of Fate. Interestingly enough, the capabilities of this tool sit in its title: The Chalk of Fate can be used to rewrite fate. Through a few "historical" fight sequences involving the ancient warlord Tamerlane's usage of this item for his own conquest, the brevity of this chalk's ownership between these forces comes cleanly into focus.

Once the film cut to modern time, the Light and Dark have reached a truce after Night Watch's chaotic conflict. Our good guy "others", the Night Watch organization, and the antagonists, the Day Watch, still carry a silent, brooding tension ready to escalate towards explosion. Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), the protagonist from the first film and still a strong member of the Night Watch, now instructs a powerful new recruit, his hidden love interest Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), in the ways of the Light. Through outside readings, he discovers the secrets behind this Chalk of Fate and, in an effort to wrong the guilt of his tumultuous past with his son, seeks the item out to alter his history. However, once Anton gets stamped with a killer's label amidst conflict, he must dodge both Light and Dark sides in some rather unconventional methods and still pry his son from the dangerous grasp of the Day Watch.

Part of what comprises, as well as jeopardize, Bekmambetov's Watch series thrives on ridiculously fast-paced and eye-numbing visuals. Night Watch hit viewers with it in spades, but neglected to deliver the story that we needed to stay invested with the film's pace. Underneath this unsubstantially wavering tale, any chance for strong characterization got lost behind this barrage of swirling, spiking effects. The marriage between the two, however, had that deer in headlights effect. I was dazzled to stupefaction and, eventually, drowsiness with Night Watch. However, something unexpectedly pleasant crossed my path with its sequel: cohesive, rousing enjoyment.

Where Night Watch taxed our visceral threshold with lambast, haphazardly smothered colors atop a soulless core, Day Watch takes control of this same visual style in a more focused, calculating fashion. Instead of feeling completely drained and unrewarded, this new installment makes certain to twist the knobs in all the right directions, namely downwards in frenzied thrashing displays and upwards in character development and narrative adhesiveness. Mind you, it's still a singularly focused story with little or no plausibility in its action like Night Watch; however, Day Watch's style satisfies far more than its predecessor, cracking like a whip alongside the action as opposed to exploding with blinding light.

That's not to say that the stylish effects are unrecognizable to the first. Quite the contrary. Each smoky, red-eyed movement and combusting shatter of glass in Day Watch carry over in tremendously sound fashion from its forerunner. And even though the editing blinks rapidly and the lurid color palette swirls and splashes with fury, it's highly satisfying to absorb here and keeps you on your toes. Bekmambetov and cinematographer Sergei Trofimov blast the nail on the head with this one, but in wildly chaotic and, at times, silkily pleasurable fashion. Now, they are still tipping the scales over to chaos, as can be seen by a fury of flying objects and jerky camerawork, but there's at least an effort towards symmetry this time around. It's obvious that their eyes have grown much more focused since their first crack at it.

Once the courting dust settles and Day Watch struts its visceral clout enough to attract our attention, it makes certain to deliver the goods with heavy-metal accompanied action flavor and an assortment of outlandish nuts and bolts. Aggressive villains on motorcycles following the signature Night Watch bus, metallic foil balls blasting through walls following the guidance of a young boy, and exploding, well, everything, kept me continuously dazzled in an energetic daze. Day Watch exercises the brain with meekly clever storytelling, instead opting to be a confection to relish for its brisk flavor in zealous action.

Nevertheless, just forget about much of anything really making a lick of sense from start to finish. Here's an example: at one point, you see a bright red sportscar drive straight alongside a building. It cracks windows and support beams along the way until it magically crashes to its side into the building ready to bolt through the hallways. Though completely and utterly unreasonable, I be damned if it wasn't entrancing. Some of the film's more entertaining and satisfying conflicts thrive in this suspended level of disbelief, such as several fantastically crafted yet unexplainable cross-gender body "switches". Carried from the performances achieved by the film's actors, especially from Galina Tyunina who plays the woman who Anton transfers into at one point, we buy into this happening even when we don't have any explanation as to how it is possible. Ignoring reality is essential for the entire series, but if that still gets your motor running then Day Watch will supply plenty of gas.

Day Watch, as a result, turns into a kinetically fleshed spasm that, in alternate fashion from the first film, squeezes the nerves tightly with knowledge of when to let go. Bekmambetov concentrates further on the story's absurd quirks alongside this rapturous aesthetic style, and we thank him for it. Maybe, once the upcoming third portion of the Watch series hits, Dusk Watch, he'll improve even further on his capabilities and deliver something even more enhanced. After soaking in Day Watch's superior formulation, there's a lot more interest than disbelief floating around in seeing where this stylish director will take his future material.

The DVD:

The Video:

Fox's special screening copy of Day Watch presents the film in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen image. Outside of color replication and some instances of detail, you can't really cull much from this unfinished transfer. Day Watch is a ridiculously lurid film packed with lush eye candy. From the looks of this unfinalized transfer, this will probably be a solid visual treatment - if not a tad muted in color.

The Audio:

In contrast, the Russian 5.1 Dolby Digital audio treatment flexes a substantial level of muscle. LFE and surround immersion kept me sucked into the action with great intensity. Sound effects, such as lashing chains and full-bodied car crashes, explode from the front and sweep gracefully to the rears - and back again in several instances. We're even working with a few exquisitely loud LFE thrusts, reminiscent of something close to the bold bass sweep at the beginning of the first Lord of the Rings' film. It's a very solid aural transfer that holds a lot of satisfaction. Alongside the Russian 5.1, an English dubbed 5.1 track is also available, as is a Spanish surround track. Subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, and Spanish. Though, it does seem that the English subtitles are purely the dubbed track in text form.

The Extras:

Though relatively standard by most means, the supplemental material included on this unrated Day Watch DVD satisfies many of the curiosities aroused throughout the film's timeframe with the audience. Here's what we're playing with:

- Commentary by Timur Bekmambetov -
Very quiet with a rumbling voice, director Bekmambetov has sparse moments of revelation with this commentary track. He seems to prefer for the film to speak for itself, since he seems to be quite reserved even with a moderator present for questioning. There's a few interesting bits, including some curious shifts in his demeanor when discussing the dubbing. Hearing about his favorite effects scenes and his affection for the production crew is nice to hear, though. It's a bit dry, but still insightful.

- Making of Day Watch -
Spanning at a little over 27 minutes, this making of featurette delivered a bunch more than expected. Though it's relatively short in length, we're taken along a quick gambit of production sequences, character motivations, and effects generation. Director Bekmambetov pops up frequently, as does several members of his production crew and the full cast. Packed with interviews, green screen footage, and plenty of secrets from the film, this segment is a very strong accompaniment. Just be prepared for a bit of the polished marketing-savvy style while watching this.

Outside of these core features, we also have a large gallery of trailers, from six different Russian Trailers and Television Spots, to the International Theatrical Trailer. None of them are anamorphic, however. Furthermore, several other Fox Trailers make their way onto the disc.


Final Thoughts:

Fans of Night Watch will relish in the consistent tone carried over into the sequel, while newcomers and those unsatisfied with the first might find a new, more satisfying experience with Day Watch. If you're venturing fresh into Bekmambetov's world, you'll find it's fairly easy to pick up on most of the plot points from the first film. Needless to say, Day Watch comes confidently Recommended as a visual feast and as a solid action-based modern fantasy. Eye candy aside, I undoubtedly enjoyed this film much more than the first.

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