Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) – Unrated [Blu-ray Review]

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Starring: Konstantin Khabensky
Directed By: Timur Bekmambetov

Running Time: 114 minutes
Ratings: Canada – 14A, USA – R, UK – 15

Back Cover

The forces of Light and Darkness have co-existed in a delicate balance for hundreds of years… until now. Even as the Night Watch polices the Dark Others — among them vampires, witches and shape-shifters — a chain of mysterious events triggers an age-old prophecy, shattering the balance and unleashing an apocalyptic war unlike any the world has ever known!

Movie

Night Watch was one of the most unique film presentations that I have experienced since the original Matrix film. With its highly stylized production design and “outside the box” visual effects, it does everything that it needs to in order to keep the eye wide with excitement.

Timur Bekmambetov and his production team have certainly done their homework, or at least put in more than the time and effort necessary to get the job done right. Everything about the compilation of this film is designed to stimulate. Timur keeps a story pace that never backs down as plot points are continuous and evenly dispersed. Costuming and locations are spot on for a film about the seedy underbelly of a world riddled with mystic beings. And to watch all of these elements come together with actor performances and make them work together like a finely tuned clock is a real testament to Timur’s work as a director. Making sure that the final product has such a cohesive aspect isn’t always an easy task… especially when the end result is a strange brew of The Matrix, Requiem For A Dream, Blade, and The Sixth Sense. But, he managed to pull it off with extreme style.

The one downfall to this film, for North American audiences anyhow, is that there seems to be a lack of exposition or action which better details some of the concepts within the film. Perhaps this was given less substance in the translation of the film into English? For example, I didn’t fully understand how “The Gloom” worked until well after our hero’s first physical encounter within the film. Eventually I was able to put the pieces together and understand what was going on with the vanishing vampires who would seem to randomly shift between real life, then in mirrors, and back again. So, for anyone having yet to watch the film, allow me to clarify. The context of the film takes the old adage that a vampire has no reflection and places a neat little spin on it. A vampire has no reflection if in the real world dimension. When a vampire enters “The Gloom” dimension they are no longer visible to the naked human eye, unless seen in the reflection of a mirror.

However, in the end, this film is by and far the most interesting foreign production I have witnessed to date. It is a rabid feast for the eyes while creating characters that really come to mean something to their audience. I’m not saying that it is the greatest work from abroad, but it certainly takes top honours for the fantasy genre. It will be thanks to this film that the Russian cinema finally gets some international recognition.

Crave Factor – 9

Extras

Commentary – Director Timur Bekmambetov stumbles his way through an English spoken commentary about his film. What was most interesting about this commentary is where Timur points out where the American translator for the North American release changed a few details in order to make it more appropriate for the region. He also points out a lot of interesting Russian writing and signage details that are in scene backgrounds which anyone who doesn’t understand Russian would not understand. He also spends a decent amount of time discussing the lifestyle differences between Russia and North America. It’s difficult for me to really recommend this commentary based on quality as his English is somewhat scattered and, as a result, his points may not always be clear. But, there is something to gain from it.

Subtitled Commentary (English/French/Spanish) – Novelist Sergei Lukyanenko is relatively quick to point out the major differences between his novel and the film adaptation. There are some very interesting discrepancies between the two. Obviously, the changes were purely made for cinematic purposes and I can see where most all of them work better for a film of this nature. I do wish that this was an audio commentary though. It gets tyring having to read that much text because there is always something to read on the screen and it changes rather quickly.

Deleted Scenes (28:42 as ‘Play All’) – 7 Scenes in total viewable individually. Also, viewable both with original Russian audio track or English track. The bulk of the material in this section is all extremely stylized footage to create parallels with the original medieval battle between Light and Dark and stylized extensions of scenes that exist within the final cut of the film. It can be very interesting to watch for the comparitive approach. However, nearly all of the footage would have hindered the pace. The only scene that really offers anything concrete to the plot is the deleted epilogue.

The Making of Night Watch (39:03) – The typically detailed making of featurette that reveals details about the creation of the story, production design, costuming, characters, stunts, and the occasional on-set incident. This extra feature is Russian audio with English subtitles.

Characters, Story and Subtitles (5:06) – A brief directorial conversation that explains the reasoning behind some stylistic choices of the film in a broad sense of being an international presentation.

Night Watch Trilogy (3:27) – Director Timur Bekmambetov discusses the purpose, intention and style of each installment of the film.

Comic Book Still Gallery (8:44) – Still images from the comic book with subtitle translations played sequentially as if to tell some of the story. This particular portion of the comic book details the history of Andrei, the vampire killed in the abandoned hair salon.

D-Box – This feature is becoming a bit more common in the industry. There is a mechanical attachment which can be attached to the base of your home theatre seating that is controlled by code associated with the film whereby your chairs/couch can move in correlation to the action on the screen. I have not experienced this personally, but think it sounds quite ingenious… especially for high action car chase sequences.

Crave Factor – 7

Video

1.85:1 Widescreen / AVC

Aside from a little bit of grain, this film transfer is of impeccable high quality. Particularly impressive is the detail of levels within the image blacks. The film takes place mostly in the dark and maintains a fantastic balance throughout every scene. So much so that I could even make out individual character head hairs in scenes of complete darkness. And, not a single moment of artifacting or banding takes place with the many strong and isolated light sources amidst vast screens of black. Colouring and detail level is surprisingly also rich despite the presence of this level of grain. This is my first experience of film grain where its presence doesn’t disturb the depth of the image. Given the highly stylized nature of the visual presentation of the film, this is easily among the best video transfers on the market.

Crave Factor – 10

Audio

DTS HD MA 5.1 (Russian) / DTS 5.1 (English) / Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)

What a conundrum this release is when it comes to the audio options. Obviously, anyone that understands Russian has the advantage with this title as the best audio is the DTS HD MA 5.1 audio. Unfortunately, the dialogue is in Russian. However, it may just be worth it to watch the film using this track while activating the English subtitles. It is the most robust and active track that I have heard in a very long time. The subwoofer gets an unprecedented workout as I literally had coffee table items shifting towards the edges! What an audio experience!

For those who can’t stand subtitles and prefer the dialogue in English, no worries. It may not be the BEST audio option on the disc, but the English DTS 5.1 track still packs quite a wallop. It isn’t quite as detailed and the atmosphere is a bit less intense in most stylized scenes. But, it still gives your senses a injection of the filmmaker intentions. Like the DTS HD MA track, the subwoofer also caused some serious rumblings in the living room. However, the rattling was limited to a smaller radius as I could see items on my component stand shaking slightly, but nothing on the coffee table seemed affected.

Crave Factor – 10

Menu

An intense visual compilation of clips from the film are flashed at us with varying presentation quality (as though they are being projected on different surfaces). They transition quickly with a “fire explosion” effect from the centre of the screen outwards. The only audio heard is an energetic heavy metal/rock/techno section of the film score. Menu options are located at the base of the screen in a bar that is visually designed to give a bleak and spider-web laden quality to it. It certainly gets you in the mood for the intensity of the film that you are about to watch.

Crave Factor – 9

Conclusion

The only two things that should be keeping anyone from buying this title are an utter disregard for foreign films and/or an utter disregard for the fantasy/horror genre. I had my skepticism about the title as recent films about my favourite baddies (vampires) have been falling short of my expectations. Although Night Watch isn’t so much a vampire movie as it is a film about fantasy beings in general, this film certainly had my eyebrows raised in interest throughout its entire run. And, what better way to experience such an interesting experience than in High Definition? This Blu-ray release from 20th Century Fox really packs one heck of a punch. That’s no exageration. The video quality of this disc is extremely impressive with a level of detail unheard of given the presence of film grain. Likewise, the audio is just downright sick (in the best possible way). Like I said in the audio review section, it literally shook items on my coffee table 4 feet away. The disc extra features may not be the most comprehensive material as it is mostly subtitled and/or recorded by Russian individuals struggling with the English language. However, there is definitely a lot to learn about the production amidst the broken English. This is definitely a unique production that deserves the chance to shine on your home theatre setup.

Overall Crave Factor – 9

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