Day Watch (aka Dnevnoy Dozor) (DVD)
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov
Distributed by Fox Home Entertainment
Ever since watching and reviewing the official DVD release of the wonderful Russian film Night Watch a while ago, I haven't been able to shake the feelings it left me with. Sure, I go about my daily routine of work, eat, socialize, and sleep, but always at the back of my mind is the idea that they're out there -- the Others. Moving back and forth between the Light and the Dark and occasionally doing battle in the Gloom. I had to know what happens next. Finally Fox has released the sequel, Day Watch, on DVD, and at long last I can return to the world I've been missing.
[Note: This review assumes that the reader has seen the original Night Watch and, therefore, includes some possible spoilers for that film. Additionally, since Day Watch does not provide any sort of recap or synopsis of what transpired in Night Watch, it is highly recommended that the original film be viewed prior to its sequel; otherwise, you will have no idea who the characters are and will be completely lost with regard to Day Watch's storyline and references to past events.]
Like its predecessor, Day Watch begins with a flashback that explains some additional history about the ongoing battle between the forces of Dark and Light. The legendary warrior Tamerlan is in Northern Iran, attempting to devise a way to retrieve the "Chalk of Fate" from its maze-like fortress. Anyone possessing the Chalk is able to rewrite his own history and change events, including bringing the dead back to life, a trick that comes in handy for Tamerlan. Following this introduction, which incorporates exactly the type of bloody battle fans of the series have come to expect, we are transported to the present day, where Anton and Svetlana are now working together in the Night Watch. He is training her, and she is asking him about a book of his that she found -- a book about Tamerlan. Their mutual attraction is immediately apparent. But that must be put on hold as they are on the hunt for a rogue Dark Other who has been breaking the rules by inserting needles into the backs of the elderly and sucking out their life force. They get the call that another old woman has been attacked. Sveta spots the assailant and gives chase, entering the Gloom despite Anton's earlier warnings to her that she's not experienced enough. At this point we're treated to the first of many cool, weird visuals for which the Watch films are known. Sveta is rescued from the Gloom by Anton, but not before she rips off the face-covering cap of their quarry. It's Yegor, Anton's son. Sveta does not know him but sees the recognition on Anton's face. He tells her he will take care of things from here on out.
Yegor returns to Zavulon's residence, where the Dark leader is informing his minion/lover Alisa that she is to never remove the ring he has given her. Yegor is upset. He believed that only he, a Great, could access Level 2 of the Gloom; but Sveta had followed him there. The possibility of two Great Others co-existing at this point in time means that many other events are about to unfold and fate is at hand. The next day is Yegor's birthday, and Zavulon needs to ensure that nothing stands in the way of his coming into his own. He begins setting in motion a plan to have Anton arrested for murder by the Day Watch and taken out of the picture. In order to protect Anton and try to keep the balance from shifting too much more to the Dark -- already their numbers are increasing -- Gesser (the Light leader for those of you who might be a bit rusty on names) borrows a page from Anne Rice's Tale of the Body Thief and "hides" Anton in Olga's body. Olga, you may recall, is the member of the Night Watch who only recently returned to human form after being turned into an owl back in the 1940's. Anton/Olga goes home with Sveta, where the two engage in some girl talk, and both are soon overcome with the need to finally express their emotions about one another. It's an honest, beautiful scene in which Galina Tyunina (Olga) truly shines. Her transformation into Anton is near perfect. From her mannerisms to her posture to her expressions, there is no doubt who inhabits her body: Anton, a man. Understated though it may be, it's truly a masterly performance. She's ably matched by Mariya Poroshina (Svetlana), but the almost goofy tropical setting of their love scene took me out of the moment somewhat.
Then I started sensing that the whole tone of this installment is lighter than what I was used to from Night Watch. There is even some unexpected humor thrown in here and there. It makes for a nice balance between the two films. If, as one of the characters says, "Darkness hides defects," then director Bekmambetov must have realized that since there is very little wrong with Day Watch, there was no need to hide it in the shadows. Sergei Trofimov, the cinematographer, did an outstanding job of bringing Day Watch into the Light.
Which brings me to the best part of Day Watch: Konstantin Khabensky. I cannot extol this actor's talents enough. You learn everything you need to know about Anton from studying Khabensky's face. The loss of his son to the Dark side; his love for Sveta and the awe with which he regards her; the hope he still carries that one day he can make things right -- it's all there. The synergy between Khabensky and Bekmambetov is a major ingredient of the success of these films. Nothing is black and white, nothing is shoved down our throats, and nothing is over-explained, although I do know some people think things aren't explained enough. Myself? I like a lot left to the imagination, especially in a fantasy that's rooted so firmly in reality. And speaking of imagination, whoever thought up that stunt of Alisa driving along the side of Zavulon's super sleek high-rise building deserves applause. That was some crazy effect!
I was also glad to see Alisa's character expanded in Day Watch. It was mentioned in the features for Night Watch that Zhanna Friske is a real pop star in Russia, and I couldn't help but be curious if she has serious acting abilities since her part in the first film was rather small. I'm happy to report that she is quite good. Her subplot with Kostya, Anton's young vampire neighbor, is touching and adds a strangely human element to the goings-on. Truly, from top to bottom there's not a single actor who could be called a weak link.
So, it all sounds very cozy and inviting. Awesome effects, a director who respects the audience, terrific acting, even an appearance by two Inquisitors . . . blah, blah, blah. What about the payoff? Is it both a worthy sequel and a satisfactory setup for Part 3? Absolutely. One thing Bekmambetov and his crew do better than almost anybody is know how to film wars, chases, and fight scenes. And score them with music and sounds that are just right. Alisa's driving scene mentioned earlier is the tip of the iceberg. There's a race between the Night Watch's big bad truck and some Day Watch members on motorcycles that is pretty extreme, but even that doesn't compare to the final showdown of Great versus Great -- Yegor vs. Svetlana. The boy unleashes some nifty silver spheres of destruction that would leave the Tall Man drooling, and when all seems lost, the question of whether the Chalk of Fate is legend or fact is finally answered. Quite satisfactorily in fact.
Also satisfactory are the extras on this disc, especially the 27-minute making-of. It contains interviews with cast and crew with an emphasis on the effects, character development, and overall philosophy of the series. As Bekmambetov explains in his commentary, it was quite difficult to properly translate the Watch films because they contain so many cultural references that would only make sense to a Russian audience. But to this reviewer, it's precisely that exotic, unfamiliar characteristic that's so appealing. It's like being immersed in a completely different world, one that is somehow comforting in its complexity.
Bekmambetov goes on to say that Day Watch "imitates" a commercial film but really belongs to the art house crowd. His commentary is sporadic and filled with long pauses, so many that at some points I thought maybe I'd turned it off. But be patient -- the tidbits he does reveal are well worth it. He discusses how he first got involved with the project, how the novels inspired him, what it was like to work with the books' author Sergei Lukyanenko on the screenplay, his casting process, the meanings behind the opening and closing title sequences, and more.
Along with the commentary and featurette are the US trailer, 6 Russian trailers, and a whopping 16 TV spots that I highly recommend taking a few moments to watch. A couple of them are absolutely brilliant!
Interestingly enough, Day Watch the movie isn't based on Lukyanenko's novel Day Watch, but rather two stories from his Night Watch book. At one point it was going to be released as Night Watch 2, and a teaser trailer with that name was included on some Russian DVD's. About 70% of Day Watch was filmed at the same time as Night Watch and was supposed to be broken up into two films. But then the decision was made to wrap up the Russian part of the story and move the action to America, so the two parts were combined into one. Either way is fine with me. As Anton cynically tells Sveta, "Dark, Light . . . What's the difference?" As long as I know there's at least one more installment of the Watch on its way, they can call it whatever they want. Just so the Hollywood suits stay far away and Timur, Konstantin, and the rest of the gang are left alone to keep doing what they've been doing to make our days nice and Gloom-y.
4 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
Discuss Day Watch in our Dread Central forums!