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May 07, 2006

Day Watch


Dnevnoy Dozor
Timur Bekmambetov - 2006
1VK Region 0 DVD

Last August, knowing that Fox Searchlight was dithering with its U.S. release, I saw the Russian DVD of Night Watch. If you want to read my review, it's in the August archive. Considering that Fox failed to capitalize on whatever "buzz" had been generated from Night Watch, I figured that I could see the sequel on an import DVD long before the film appears in any U.S. format. One good thing about the Day Watch DVD is that the set-up instructions are also in English. With Night Watch it took me about fifteen minutes of trial and error to figure out which setting to hit for English subtitles.

Pretty much, whatever I wrote about Night Watch is true about the sequel. The second film begins with a new prologue, again taking place in the Middle Ages. A character named Tamerlan leads his army on horseback, crashing through the walls of a castle, for the chalk of fate. Imagine, if you will, Frodo and Bilbo and the gang fighting not over some magical rings but a mystic piece of chalk. There is a spectacular battle with body parts lopped off with swords, and flying crows that turn into warriors clad in black. With the special chalk, you can literally rewrite your fate. Day Watch ends with an apocalyptic vision of Moscow that is equally enthralling to watch. The narrative in between the beginning and end of the film must have been written in chalk, and then erased just as quickly, because it makes very little sense.

A common complaint about Night Watch is that the story was hard to follow. Once again we have the forces of Light versus the forces of Dark. There are also characters who are in something called "The Gloom". One of the guys from Light, Anton, tries to rescue his son, who is with the Dark. As best as I could figure, the Dark included vampires who stuck unsuspecting people with long needles, and drank blood out of the same kind of little box containers used for Juicy Juice. While several of the characters from Night Watch are in Day Watch, it almost doesn't matter whether one has seen the first film.

Day Watch is almost like watching a film with all of the action sequences of a Joel Silver production as reimagined by Terry Gilliam with the retro-future of Brazil and Twelve Monkeys, with bits of Luc Besson's Fifth Element, the cold weather fashions of Aki Kaurismaki, and a moment of soft-core lesbian porn reminiscent of Russ Meyer. Day Watch was built for speed, not logic. People chase each other, trucks and cars race through the streets, action follows action with little time given to any meaning or explanation. This is a movie where a woman with a devil's horns hairdo drives her car on the side of an office building, breaks through a picture window, and accelerates down the hallway. This is a movie where a parrot is transformed into an extremely manic human being. If you want a movie with meaning and character motivation, let me recommend Swordfish. Day Watch stops for nothing, hurtling from one scene to the next without pause.

Amazingly, Day Watch was reportedly produced for a little over four million dollars. Again, the speed of the film keeps one from seeing how so much was done with a fraction of the resources. Slowing down the film, especially frame by frame indicates that to compare Day Watch with, for example, Return of the King is almost like comparing classical Walt Disney animation with Huckleberry Hound. When you have scenes of a guy chasing down a baby with spider legs, and a party that suddenly is populated by medieval mercenaries with swords, and you have absolutely no idea what to anticipate, you're too dazzled to care how it was done. If Day Watch was a thrill ride, it would be that old, rickety roller coaster that is more fun and exciting than the high tech ride because part of the fun is the suspicion that it will fall apart from under you at any moment.

Posted by peter at May 7, 2006 02:00 PM


"If Day Watch was a thrill ride, it would be that old, rickety roller coaster that is more fun and exciting than the high tech ride because part of the fun is the suspicion that it will fall apart from under you at any moment."

Nice. That is about the best articulated way to sum up both films so far. The messiness is actually the attraction here. I have a soft-spot for both films, really. I don't know why, because if this was american produced, it'd probably bother me a lot (or I'd just ignore it). However, its Russian-ness (sprawling epic story, Moscow locales and characters) is quite an attraction

Posted by: Kurt at May 8, 2006 04:38 PM