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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF Blu-ray Review: NIGHT WATCH / DAY WATCH (Updated & Complete)



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#1 of 16 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 06 2008 - 07:59 AM

UPDATED! Reviews of both discs are now included. The plots of these two movies are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to describe the second one without major spoilers for the first. I tried to get around this by reviewing them together. I hope you'll bear with me. M.
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#2 of 16 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 06 2008 - 08:18 AM


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#3 of 16 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 06 2008 - 08:19 AM

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Day Watch (Blu-ray)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox (Fox Searchlight)
Rated: Unrated (theatrical rating: R)
Film Length: 146 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
HD Encoding: 1080p
HD Codec: AVC
Audio: Russian DTS-HD MA 5.1; English DTS 5.1; French DD 5.1; Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Spanish, English SDH
MSRP: $39.98
Disc Format: 1 50GB
Package: Keepcase
Theatrical Release Date: Jan. 1, 2006 (Russia); June 1, 2007 (U.S.)
Blu-ray Release Date: Sept. 9, 2008

Tamerlane: I shall control the fate of the world...
Zoar: But you can't even control your own fate.
 

Introduction:

Night Watch was originally conceived as the beginning of a TV miniseries, then reconceived as
the first part of a movie trilogy when its producers realized the breadth of director Timur
Bekmambetov's vision. But when the first part of your trilogy succeeds on such a grand scale,
and a major media company comes calling, plans have to change yet again. The decision was
made to take the third installment (now in pre-production) onto the international stage. So the
second film, Day Watch, was rewritten to accommodate all the material that had originally been
spread over two movies. Since much of the footage had already been shot simultaneously with
Night Watch, this was no small task.

The result is BIG. The international cut of Day Watch that Fox released worldwide and now on
Blu-ray is half an hour longer than Night Watch, and it's still about 18 minutes shorter than the
Russian original. (Here, too, a list of changes can be found at IMDb, but I recommend not
reading it until after viewing the film.)

The Feature:

Even though it is only part two of three, Day Watch brings to a close all of the plot elements left
open in Night Watch, which ended on a cliffhanger. For that reason, it is almost impossible to
describe the story without major spoilers regarding both films. But certain elements can be
described generally.

We pick up with Anton some time after the events of Night Watch. He is still working for Geser,
leader of the light Others, only now he has a new trainee: a familiar face from the first film. On
what is supposed to be a routine assignment, they unexpectedly encounter another familiar face
from their earlier adventures, who leads them on a chase into the Gloom, but into a new level
unlike any we've seen before--a level where most Others cannot go. This is one of the
many signs throughout Day Watch that the stakes have been raised.

Meanwhile, Anton has become intrigued by a historical legend involving Tamerlane, the 14th
century Mongol warrior who claimed to be descended from Genghis Khan and conquered much
of central and western Asia. In a prologue, we watch Tamerlane lead his armies in an assault on a
massive fortress surrounding the mystical Chalk of Fate, said to hold the power to rewrite
destiny. In the story as we see it, Tamerlane acquires the Chalk after a fierce battle, but is it just a
story? Anton hopes it isn't, and he begins searching for historical records that might lead him to
the Chalk. At one point, he even breaks into the archives of Night Watch (he has other reasons to
do this, but it would take too long and give away too much to explain them).

Meanwhile, Zavulon, leader of the dark Others, for reasons of his own, sets out to frame Anton
for breaches of the truce between dark and light. Anton spends much of Day Watch fleeing the
supernatural authorities. His colleagues at Night Watch do what they can to help him, at one
point switching his body with that of a female colleague.

One of the people hunting Anton is Zavulon's lieutenant, Alice, now known as "Alisa". But in
Day Watch, we discover that Alisa is in love with Zavulon and is feeling taken for granted. In
one of the film's signature sequences, Alisa, after being told that Zavulon is too busy to see her,
refuses to take no for an answer, jumps her sporty red Mazda off the road, races across the long
wall of Zavulon's hotel-fortress, plunges through a window, careens down the hall and crashes
into the ballroom that serves as Zavulon's office. (The seeds of many of the effects in
Bekmambetov's Wanted can be seen in this sequence.)

Alisa's issues with Zavulon are a typical example of what distinguishes Day Watch from the
previous chapter of the trilogy. Where Night Watch was propelled irresistibly forward, Day
Watch
takes the time to explore relationships between the characters, both romantic and familial.
The film is especially interested in father-son relationships, whether real or surrogate. Because
the canvas is so much broader, the tone of Day Watch is often lighter, sometimes almost comical,
especially during the body switch. At times, the film has the jaunty feel of something like The
Fifth Element
(though it looks nothing like it).

But Bekmambetov hasn't forgotten what we're there for. Everything and everyone comes
together at a massive party held by Zavulon where, quite literally, all hell breaks loose and
Moscow suffers devastation worthy of anything in the films of Spielberg, Emmerich, Cameron or
Roger Corman (the last one being a filmmaker Bekmambetov has specifically said he admrires).
There is a marvellous sequence with a ferris wheel that I'm certain is a direct homage to
Spielberg's 1941.

I don't think it gives anything away to say that, by the end of the film, Zavulon and Geser are
once again opposite each other, much as they were when they first negotiated the truce between
the light and the dark at the beginning of Night Watch. But where they are (and when) may
surprise you. They look like two Russians, but they reminded me of the Old Testament God and
Satan bargaining over Job. The battle between light and dark is eternal.


Video:

As befits the film's wider canvas, Day Watch was framed at 2.35:1 and is so presented on this
Blu-ray. The film's color palette is also considerably more varied than that of Night Watch,
ranging from the muted browns and tans of the wintry Tamerlane flashback to the lush greens of
a tropical fantasy sequence (shot in Jamaica) and the gaudy decor of Zavulon's party. The
transfer on this disc is every bit the equal in quality of the transfer for Night Watch, rising fully to
the challenge of each scene. Detail is excellent, even in dark scenes, and this permits full
appreciation of the artistry of the CG wizards who created the apocalyptic conclusion. Again, I
saw no indication of DNR or edge enhancement.


Audio:

Another spectacular DTS-HD MA track, with immersive sound and numerous directional effects.
The sound designers clearly had a lot of fun. At various moments, low tones emanate from the
LFE channel for no apparent reason except to signal the presence of something otherworldly. An
early scene when Zavulon is enraged (the start of the scene plays during the end credits of Night
Watch
) is an assault on your ears, if you play the film at reference level. And when the projectiles
that are the weapon of the apocalypse start whizzing around the room, duck!


Special Features:

Since I do not have the standard DVD of Day Watch, I'm not in a position to compare the list of
special features. However, from what I have read, the list appears to be the same, even though
many of the special features on the standard DVD were not listed on the case. With the exception
of the U.S. trailer, all of the special features are in standard definition.

Commentary by Director Timur Bekmambetov. Someone thought it was a good idea to
assign an American interviewer to sit with Bekmambetov while he viewed Day Watch. It might
have worked, if the unidentified interviewer were any good at the job. But he allows long
stretches to pass without asking any questions, and there are gaps in the commentary. What's
there is quite interesting. Bekmambetov talks about the relationship between the two films,
shares some stories about filming and talks about his influences. There is some overlap with the
commentary on Night Watch, but that is to be expected. One only wishes that the interviewer had
done a better job and asked better questions.

Making of Day Watch (26:08). A very professional and informative behind-the-scenes
featurette, including interviews with most of the principal cast, the producers and many of the
technical crew, as well as on-set footage

Russian Trailers. There are six of these, and it's fascinating to see how elaborate a
marketing campaign was deployed for this film. Many of the trailers contain specially written and
recorded narration from a particular character telling the film's story from his or her point of
view. It's a clever approach to marketing the film without giving away too much.

Russian TV Spots. Sixteen in all, and very short. Many of them don't even contain
footage but were specially shot for TV, often using actors familiar from smaller parts in one or
both films. They are often hilarious, and I recommend the "Play All" function.

U.S. Trailer. The only extra in HD, it is the same one featured on the Blu-ray of Night
Watch
.

D-Box Coding. For those of you with the appropriate hardware.



Final Thoughts:

As wildly entertaining as the Watch films are, they have a serious theme. Anton tells someone in
Night Watch (and I'm paraphrasing): "Be careful when you say things like 'damned' and
'cursed'. They're more than just words." The whole of Day Watch, indeed the whole of both
films, can be viewed as a test of Anton's ability to take his own advice. The melancholy that he
can't shake comes from things he said rashly and regretted even before he knew their full impact.
And once he knew it he risked everything to change it.

Has he succeeded? Zavulon and Geser are still watching.





Equipment used for this review:

Panasonic BDP-BD50 Blu-ray player (DTS-HD MA decoded internally and output as analog)
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display (connected via HDMI)
Lexicon MC-8 connected via 5.1 passthrough
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub

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#4 of 16 OFFLINE   Cees Alons

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Posted September 06 2008 - 08:51 AM

Thanks, Michael. Excellent review. Waiting for the other one as well, but I'm about to order both already now. Cees

#5 of 16 OFFLINE   Edwin-S

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Posted September 06 2008 - 08:55 AM

Just curious. Does the DVD version have the special subs? I haven't seen this but your description has piqued my curiousity now. Edit: Whoops. Reread your video commentary. It sounds like the DVD does have the subs, so my question has been answered.
"You bring a horse for me?" "Looks like......looks like we're shy of one horse." "No.......You brought two too many."

#6 of 16 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 06 2008 - 10:02 AM

Edwin, just to confirm, yes, the DVD of Night Watch has the special subs. They had to make it flipper disc and put a different version of the film on each side.

However, the regular DVD of Day Watch doesn't have the special subs, which is why I never got around to picking it up. Figured I would wait for a sale or something. The upside is, I'm not spending as much time doing comparisons between the special features, because I can't. Posted Image

M.
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#7 of 16 OFFLINE   Joseph J.D

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Posted September 07 2008 - 02:08 PM

I am quite disappointed that FOX didn't provide the Blu-rays with the special subtitles. They added a certain charm to the films. Their absence just takes away from the experience (such as when I watched the Day Watch DVD). It's a shame that FOX was so cheap not to include them. Improvement in picture quality or not, I will NOT be purchasing these. I hope that future releases of these films will correct this terrible oversight......probably a very long wait, I'm sure. Oh well, I have these on DVD already. No need for me to upgrade for now.
Recently watched- Band Of Brothers, Scream Blacula Scream, Blacula, Maleficent 3D, Lake Placid, Running Scared(1986), Heroes: Season 2, Lock,Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, True Blood: Season 2, WKRP In Cincinnati: Season 1, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek(2009), Game Of Thrones: Season 1, Vault Of Horror, Tales From The Crypt(1972)

Currently watching- Planet Earth, True Blood: Season 3, Gatchaman: The Complete Series, The Equalizer: Season 3, Tales From The Crypt: Season 2, WKRP In Cincinnati: Season 2, Star Trek: Season 2, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 1, Game Of Thrones: Season 2, Heroes: Season 2, The Pacific
 
"Since my customary farewell would appear oddly self-serving, I shall simply say...Good luck."

 


#8 of 16 OFFLINE   Paul Arnette

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Posted September 08 2008 - 04:38 AM

Frankly, I thought the subtitles were the most interesting part of Night Watch. Their exclusion makes the Blu-ray Discs any easy 'pass' given Fox's catalog pricing.
Universal Blu-ray Discs I will not be buying while they're offered only as Blu-ray + DVD 'flipper' discs:

The Jackal
, Out of Africa, and Traffic.

#9 of 16 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 08 2008 - 06:42 AM

I very much sympathize with the disappointment at the omission of the special English subtitles, which is why I made a point of reporting this on the forum even before I'd finished viewing both discs. Frankly my first reaction when I popped in Night Watch was to write a review slamming the disc.

But 10 minutes later, I'd forgotten all about it, because I was so caught up in the film. The Blu-ray is that good. I have to report the bad and the good.

Paul, I completely agree that Fox's prices are too high, and I refuse to buy their catalogue titles when they leave out special features previously prepared and included on standard DVD. That's why I took great pains to compare the Blu-ray of Night Watch to the standard DVD, and I was pleased to see that, the subtitle issue aside, not only were all the old extras carried over, but there were also significant new ones.

Now, obviously, if the special subs are what interested you most about these films, these discs aren't for you. If you're like me and consider them among the first rank of fantasy films of the last twenty years or so, well . . . see above. Posted Image

M.
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#10 of 16 OFFLINE   Paul Arnette

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Posted September 08 2008 - 08:06 AM

Michael, I really appreciate you making the subtitle issue known. I wonder if it wasn't a matter of the special subs being added at some stage after the HD master was created and Fox didn't want to expend the resources to properly replicate them with Java coding? I wasn't too enamored with Night Watch when I rented the DVD way back, but if you consider 'them among the first rank of fantasy films of the last twenty year or so' perhaps I will at least give them another try as a Netflix rental.
Universal Blu-ray Discs I will not be buying while they're offered only as Blu-ray + DVD 'flipper' discs:

The Jackal
, Out of Africa, and Traffic.

#11 of 16 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 08 2008 - 08:37 AM

I wondered about that, but I just don't know enough about BD-J (or BD-Live) to know whether it could handle such a task. I suspect it would take a lot of processing power, probably more than is found in the average Blu-ray player. M.
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#12 of 16 OFFLINE   Cassy_w

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Posted September 08 2008 - 09:20 AM

Is there a foreign BD release somewhere that has the special subtitles? Doubting it, but I can ask, right?
Death to PG-13! And now death to DVNR too!!

#13 of 16 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted September 08 2008 - 09:28 AM

I have never seen either of these films, though have heard many positive things about them over the years. I was considering purchasing them both, that is, until I realized it would set me back an almost whopping $60 for both. I'm sorry, but these BD titles are way too expensive for me to purchase blindly. Had they been priced more accordingly -- especially for a catalog title -- I would have bought them both immediately. I mean, I can see $28 for a blockbuster release but for a catalog title?! Sorry, but as much as I love the people at Fox, I can't contain myself to voice my opinion on how ridiculous these prices are. I really wanted to see these films but the cost factor is making that prohibitive. It's no wonder the public is not readily embracing BD yet.

 

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Home Theater Forum co-owner

 

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#14 of 16 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted September 11 2008 - 02:07 AM

DVD Beaver's reviews have some nice screencaps for both Night Watch and Day Watch. I'm happy to see that Gary Tooze shares my appreciation for the superior technical quality of these Blu-ray discs.

M.
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#15 of 16 OFFLINE   Stephen_J_H

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Posted December 30 2009 - 05:05 AM

I picked these up about a month ago for $12 CDN each. Amazing films, and while I would have loved the burned in subs, apart from the special feature contained on Night Watch, I didn't know what I was missing.
"My opinion is that (a) anyone who actually works in a video store and does not understand letterboxing has given up on life, and (b) any customer who prefers to have the sides of a movie hacked off should not be licensed to operate a video player."-- Roger Ebert

#16 of 16 OFFLINE   Holer

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Posted January 02 2010 - 02:10 AM

These are great movies - very original and engrossing and bat-shit crazy at times. Timur Bekmambetov is a creative force to be reckoned with and the Blu transfers for both are very nice. I'm guessing Fox WON'T get around to a double dip on these films to address the sub-title issue because I don't think these films were that successful in the US, and a complete remaster is a lot to ask for a cultish catalog title. Your best luck is probably to wait for a non-US release or something and I'm sure that will be extra expensive. Just speculating. Still, I wouldn't let that one issue deter from picking these movies up if you're a fan of the genre. They've been out for awhile now and can be found quite cheap. I think I got both for 20 bucks. Well worth it because these movies are very dense both visually and from a narrative perspective - there is a lot going on and they stand up well to repeated viewings.





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