One of my favorite movies from last the last few years was the Russian film Night Watch. It was a stylish, fast-paced look at a world where the forces of Light and Dark are in precarious balance and where witches, magicians, and vampires jostle with ordinary reality. Now the sequel, Day Watch, arrives on these shores, and I’ll ask you to refrain from rolling your eyes at yet another sequel. Unlike many (most? all?) of the current crop of sequels, Day Watch not only improves on its predecessor but continues the story arc in a most satisfying way.
Though most of the film is in Russian with (very stylish!) subtitles, an English-language narrator gives us a quick summary of the events of the Night Watch movie, along with the history of the Chalk of Destiny, which can be used to change the future by rewriting the past. We’re then plunged into the story proper: minor magician Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) is training new recruit Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), the “cursed virgin” from Night Watch. Anton and Svetlana are falling in love but are unhappy about it, knowing that Svetlana’s magical gifts far exceed Anton’s and their relationship will never last. Adding to Anton’s woes, his estranged son Yegor (Dima Martynov) is destined to be a very powerful Dark magician – in fact, should Svetlana and Yegor ever meet, the balance between Light and Dark will be upset and the result will be war. The prospect of war delights Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) leader of the Dark forces, while Gesser (Vladimir Menshov), leader of Light, wants to prevent war. To further complicate matters, someone is murdering Dark Others, and Anton is being framed for the crimes. All this, and a search for the Chalk of Destiny too. Whew!
Luckily, director Timur Bekmambetov juggles the film’s stories quite deftly, thanks to a solid screenplay co-authored by Bekmambetov, Alexander Talal, and Sergei Lukyanenko (author of the Night Watch, Day Watch, and Dusk Watch novels). Day Watch is slower-paced than Night Watch, and allows both the story and the characters room to develop, making for a less frenetic, more satisfying film. However, eye candy fans need not despair: Day Watch has a bigger budget than Night Watch and not only are the special effects markedly improved, but they are put to better use as well. Bekmambetov can’t completely let go of his “oooh, shiny!” instincts, though: there’s a completely extraneous scene involving a car that delights the eye without taking too much time away from the story.
The actors, all returning from the previous film, are much better served by the sequel. Night Watch was too fast-paced and focused on setpieces to allow the actors much time to explore the characters. Day Watch redeems this well: Khabensky and Poroshina have a fine melancholy in their scenes. Khabensky and Galina Tyunina (the sorceress who was earlier trapped in an owl’s body) have a strong camaraderie that’s tested when they have to switch bodies (it’s the funniest part in the movie and has the best acting). Menshov has quiet dignity and Verzhbitsky has not-so-quiet menace.
Not everything works – occasionally the actors’ tone (Verzhbitsky in particular) and the film’s score don’t seem to hit the right note. Yegor’s character isn’t sufficiently explored; he comes off as a dark-haired Draco Malfoy, all slicked-down hair and pouty glares, and it’s never understandable why Anton wants to reforge their relationship. And although I quite liked the ending, which concludes the story arc nicely if this ends up being the last movie, while allowing plenty of room for another sequel if one happens, I’m sure I’ll be hearing arguments about the ending for some time.
If you liked Night Watch, or if you wanted to like it more than you did, by all means see Day Watch. With most of the strengths and few of the weaknesses of the earlier film, it’s a rare thing these days – a sequel that’s stronger and smarter, and isn’t superfluous.
Day Watch comes to Blu-ray with a strong 1080p 1.85:1 transfer that's wonderfully vibrant and detailed, but, much as was the case with the Night Watch Blu-ray, there's some fine cinematic grain present throughout, but it's hardly a distraction. I found Day Watch to be a bit more "colorful" than its predecessor, as there's a decent amount of daylight activity this time out, and much more focus on the far more colorful characters of the "dark" side, whose flashy cars and outfits make the forces of "light" look drab in comparison.
The audio is, once again, superb, with both the Russian and English soundtracks presented in Dolby True HD 5.1, each offering gut-rumbling bass response, and wonderfully mixed sound effects that fill the room. Dialogue is right up front in either language (which is great for those of you who are lucky enough to speak Russian). My only gripe is that neither of these releases sport the much ballyhooed animated subtitles that Fox created for the theatrical versions (or, if they do, I haven't been able to find them). Why these haven't been made available on the DVD or Blu-ray releases of these films escapes me as I recall the novel approach to the subtitles was quite heavily promoted when these films were initially released stateside, and one would think it wouldn't be much of an issue to recreate the effect for home audiences.
Supplements include a commentary by Bekmambetov, a short making-of featurette, and both Russian and English trailers. D-Box Motion Control enhancement is also included for those of you who own the expensive rumbly chair system.
While supposedly intended as a trilogy, Day Watch neatly wraps up the wonderful and visionary series Bekmambetov created, and I really don't see where else they could go from here. Rumor was the third film, Dusk Watch, would be an English language remake combining the first two films, but I've not heard anything about that lately, and hope that never comes to pass, as these films, despite their Russian origins, translate well into any language as both eye-popping spectacles and compelling and entertaining adult fairy tales. Well worth adding to your Blu-ray collection!