Judge Ryan Keefer wonders...In a Russian vampire film, is the garlic pickled in vodka?
Our review of Day Watch, published October 30th, 2007, is also available.
Their darkest battle shall be fought in the light.
Not many people know about the Night Watch and Day Watch films, though the director of both films, Timur Bekmambetov, recently made a splash in American films with the summer popcorn slam-bang action film Wanted with Angelina Jolie. And you can pretty much guarantee that it will be a nice looking and sounding disc when it comes to high definition. In the meantime, the films that helped land Bekmambetov the gig are now available on Blu-ray. Vast est lost?
Facts of the Case
Bekmambetov adapted Sergei Lukyanenko's novel into this second of two films, which look at supernatural forces and manners in a slightly matter of fact fashion, as there are Light Ones (the good guys) and the Dark Ones (spooks, vampires and other mystical forces) that battle for control of Moscow. But once in a while, there is a Great One that can decidedly tip the balance of power one way or the other, along with a centuries-old object called the Chalk of Fate. Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) is a man who helps the Light Ones in their battle, but he is framed for murder of a Dark One, and this upsets them greatly. So he undertakes a quest to clear his name and prevent any escalated battles. For full disclosure, I hadn't seen either film, so I'm coming in a little fresh.
Looking at Day Watch in and of itself, this does make for some compelling storytelling. In Anton, you have a man who is dealing with Yegor, who may or may not be his son, and Yegor's powers are coming more into focus, and his wooing by the Dark Ones and away from Anton is relatable to Western storytelling, about the guy who doesn't want to lose what keeps him sane in insane circumstances. Anton has feelings for Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), a trainee to the Day Watch squad, but cannot act on them, or at least is conflicted in doing so. In fact, the way he's able to do it is after he and Olga (Galina Tyunina) have switched bodies, and it helps put a warmer image to Anton's distance, which shows in his face. And as far as the switching goes, Khabensky and Tyunina mimic each other rather well, more so than I was expecting.
But the thing that made Bekmambetov noticeable was his knack for capturing action sequences in such a visceral way that you can't help but invest yourself in the fates of the characters. The culminating fight that helps stave off the Dark Ones' ascent to power does some almost kind of funny things, in a 1941 way, but that battle includes some good mix of visual effects and clever photography a la the Wachowski brothers, but the concepts that lead up to the shots are original and certainly things that cellular film haven't seen before. Ignore the slightly overdone substance and focus on the style in the Night Watch/Day Watch films, and you might be better for it.
Technically, the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation Day Watch sports maintains a very high transfer rate and looks good. Blacks are quite solid and sport a really good contrast, and image detail isn't too shabby either. You're not going to see a lot when it comes to image composition, when it comes to background depth or dimensions, but you do get a good looking disc. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a monster. I know this because on the title menu music, the heavy metal comes pounding through the speakers. Moving from there into the feature itself, I don't think I ran across an action scene that didn't possess at least a pound or two of low end fidelity. The last half hour is enough to wake up your neighbors' neighbors, if you felt so inclined. I'll throw the "reference quality disc" title out there for this one.
From a bonus point of view, the extras are the same as the standard definition disc, starting with a commentary by Bekmambetov, which is an assault on the senses. He brings a bit of production information and recollection of the shoot to the track, but his delivery is dry like my favorite martini. He does talk about the difficulties of making both films and how he worked with the cast as well, in case you're really into that. There's a making-of piece (26:08) that's your standard featurette, in which the cast share their thoughts on the film and the franchise in general, while the crew discusses any specific production challenges or issues. The visual effects are also given some face time as well, while the producers talk about the cast performances, and Bekmambetov also discusses working with the cast, and some other things that are covered in the commentary. Seven trailers (six of them Russian) and 16 TV spots (all Russian) are the only other extras here, that and the D-Box technology available on Fox Blu-ray discs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This film is 146 minutes and features long stretches between action sequences. To say that this is a little long is a modest understatement. To accomplish what Day Watch does, I'd say that conservatively you can trim 20 minutes and still have a good little film. If I've got some more context, perhaps I could appreciate the film a little more, but on its own…
The storytelling—however weird and implausible—washes to the shore where Bekmambetov's sense of action and suspense keeps the viewer's rapt attention, even as special effects are piled on until your common sense would normally stand up and call shenanigans. Interminable runtime and adequate extras aside, Day Watch (Blu-ray) is a technical accomplishment and those who have the standard definition disc should welcome the double-dip, based on the lossless soundtrack alone.
Not guilty for the disc, but probation for some of the storytelling.
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Scales of Justice
• Director's Commentary
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