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Dnevnoi dozor (Day Watch)

(2007) *** R
140 min. Fox Searchlight Pictures. Director: Timur Bekmambetov. Cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Maria Poroshina (II), Dmitry Martynov, Galina Tyunina, Vladimir Menshov.

"Dark, Light—what's the difference?" So says the hero of the bona fide Russian blockbuster Day Watch [Dnevnoi dozor]. One might say the same of American versus Russian blockbuster movies, suggesting our cultural imperialism has won. Maybe, or maybe Pirates of the Caribbean 3 and Day Watch are as different as...night and day. Day Watch picks up where Night Watch [Nochnoi dozor] left off. But you don't need to have seen the original to pick up the user-friendly sequel. Take a deep breath after the intimidating opening montage and you'll be just fine.

You'll also quickly realize that there's nothing quite like this fantasy-action trilogy (Dusk Watch—in English—will follow) about the tenuous truce between the forces of light and darkness. The Day Watch police the forces of Light, and the Night Watch the forces of Dark, to ensure a balance of power and no undue influence on mortals: light and Dark must be chosen freely. Tops among Day Watch agents are Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) and his inexperienced but hugely powerful protégé Sveta (Maria Poroshina).

Their unspoken attraction complicates their every move; so too does the fact that both Sveta and Anton's estranged son Yegor (Dima Martynov) are the prophesied Great Ones who—should they meet—can trigger an apocalyptic war between Light and Dark (never mind that Sveta and Yegor meet in the film's opening scene and nothing much happens). They meet in the alternate dimension known as the Gloom—a good place to hide or fight out of the prying eyes of mortals—and an idea that's quickly abandoned in the sequel. Most of the plot focuses on the attempt to keep Sveta and Yegor apart through Cold War spy techniques and the search for a pivotal talisman called the Chalk of Fate.

The key is that Day Watch has style to spare, in cinematography, editing, and even the gimmicky English subtitles, which fade in and out, jitter, splatter, and splinter. In adapting the source novels by Sergei Lukyanenko and Vladimir Vasiliev, director Timur Bekmambetov indulges eccentric excesses honed in his commercial-directing past, and somehow puts them all over. A vampire in stiletto heels and a devil's horn hairdo shoots the curl of a skyscraper with her sports car. A man and a woman swap bodies for the film's second act. And the spectacular extended climax will inspire the thought, " that's what he was saving up for." The sequel coughs up legends, father-son angst, and lunatic romance on the way to that big finish. In short, this is not your father's Mother Russia.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS HD 5.1 Master Lossless Audio

Street date: 9/9/2008

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment/MGM

Fox brings Timur Bekmambetov's Watch films to Blu-ray with stunning AV transfers. I can find no reason to complain about the crisp image (which seems sharper to me than the murky theatrical presentation in my memory), which deftly handles shadow detail and the film's visual effects and rich color palette; likewise, the lossless DTS Master Audio Russian track presents the film's soundscape at its very best advantage. The only potential complaint here is that this disc doesn't include the option of viewing the film with the splashy motion subtitles designed for the American theatrical run. Rather, the film is presented with player-generated subtitles. Frankly, this gimmick, though creative, isn't missed. A purer experience of the film is simply to leave the subtitles as unobtrusive as possible, as seen here.

The  "Unrated" version apparently is, at 146 minutes, seemingly about six minutes longer than the international cut seen in American theatres. Among the bonus features is another soft-spoken commentary by Timur Bekmambetov, egged on by an unidentified American moderator. The moderator falls down on the job, apparently unprepared to jump in with a general filmmaking question whenever Bekmambetov isn't offering a thought. Therefore, this winds up a somewhat poky track, with not much to offer anyone but die-hard fans or those who haven't listened to the preferable Night Watch commentary.

More useful is "The Making of Day Watch" (26:08), comparable to the "Making of Night Watch" from the Night Watch SE. This is the most easily digestible making-of feature, and it provides plenty of comments by cast and crew interspersed with footage from the set. Though it's not terribly different from the American EPK style, this feature provides a novel insight into modern Russian film production.

You'll also find 16 Russian TV Spots (6:02 with "Play All"), the international Theatrical Trailer (2:32), and 6 Russian Trailers (6:18 with "Play All"). Finally, the disc is D-Box enabled. Here's the best way to own a distinctive action-horror franchise and prepare for a planned third film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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