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Like many a fantasy film, Night Watch begins with a battle. Horses, armour, swords—the lot. The two sides of light and dark ‘others’ are equally matched and reach a stalemate. Their leaders decide that a truce should be agreed. The light side will form a Night Watch and the dark will form a Day Watch and together they will regain a balance until the 'Great One' comes along and chooses between light and dark.

 Night Watch
Jumping ahead to modern day, regular human Anton (Konstantin Khabensky) visits a mystical old woman who he has been told will help him get back together with his wife, who’s left him for another man. She reveals that his wife has fallen pregnant and if she carries this baby full term, Anton will never get her back. However, if Anton agrees to live with the sin, the old lady can cause a miscarriage and guarantee that Anton’s wife will come back to him. Anton flippantly agrees to the batty old lady's offer and then stuff really gets weird. The old lady starts her process and Anton’s world changes. Everything around him begins to go crazy and when a couple of night watch shape shifters burst into the room and prevent the old lady from finishing her spell and its soon revealed that Anton is actually an ‘other’, with the powers of a seer.

Twelve years later, an alcoholic Anton is now part of the Night Watch and strange happenings are unravelling around him, beginning with a twelve-year-old boy, Yegor, who is hearing psychic calls from a vampire who intends to feed on him but this is just the beginning of something much bigger.

 Night Watch
I’d never seen Night Watch before this Blu-ray viewing, despite recording it off the TV a few times and never getting round to actually watching it. I didn’t really know anyone who had seen it nor had I read much about it beyond a few glances over reviews since its release in 2004 (or 2005 depending on where you are in the world). It was just one of those movies that passed me by. Watching it for the first time I’m glad I did miss it on initial release, as the Matrix styling probably would have pissed me off. Night Watch would have felt like every other half-assed attempt to fit into that Matrix inspired batch that arrived by the barrel load in the early 2000s and I probably would have been unfairly critical of it because of that.

Watching it now, the first thing that strikes me is just how bold this movie is. Night Watch has a very large vision in a fairly small setting and it’s never afraid of restraining itself from going into typical-ville. For the first forty odd minutes Night Watch is a movie that really demands you to keep up. It throws the story at you without explaining anything in any real detail and once we catch up with Anton, twelve years after one of the most abstract introductions in live action fantasy movies ever, everything moves along without letting you in on any of the finer details. This might sound like a complaint, but it really isn’t. I actually liked how lived in this all was, how it avoided having a main character in which we are experiencing this all with for the very first time. Anton has been like this for twelve years already, this is his life and we are seeing all the elements of it in full flow. He drinks blood. He only goes out at night. He has a flashlight with a specific bulb for messing up vampires. There are big yellow trucks that come with boosters and can do full flips over people. Seriously the first forty minutes of Night Watch throws the entire workings of this alternative Russia at you by the truck load and it’s all handled with enough control for you to still follow what’s going on... just about.

 Night Watch
Around the midway point, and after Anton has had his ass handed to him by a vampire, we begin to get a little bit more of what we’ve come to expect from modern fantasy movies—a prophecy. Of course a prophecy is a classic storytelling tool, but since The Phantom Menace trailer where Mace Windu delivers the classic line ‘You believe it’s this... boy?’ it feels as if we have to have that very same scenario in every fantasy film that followed, with the only change being whether the chosen one is a boy or a girl. Seriously I’m so over this stuff in fantasy movies, yet Night Watch manages to make it feel more than that. This prophecy feels valid and important and how it all plays out is pretty inspired stuff. I would also go as far as to say that it’s magical. Not in a wraps you up with sparkles and fairy dust magical but the way each event in the unfolding of this prophecy feels like it’s something out of a fairytale or a folk story and is actually happening for a mystical reason. The inclusion of a character who’s cursed with being unlucky and the vortex of birds around her high rise castle-esq building and how a single bolt from a passing plane could find its way into her cup of tea, all feel perfectly reasonable within this world. Even seeing a very stylish scene that involves an owl turn into a woman without the use of any CGI makes this feel so much more than the tepid Harry Potter franchise or those CGI-a-mungus Narnia movies. There’s something more on offer here than just another flashy yet generic fantasy movie, this one wants you to feel something about its characters and the events and I have to say that it totally worked on me.

Video


Looking at the quality of the standard definition on the extra features is my only comparison to what this may look like on DVD, so with that said, this HD release seems to be quite the improvement. I was initially struck by how brightly coloured the movie was. The reds in the mystic old woman’s home are warm and bold and the moment they turn to a very cool blue is equally as impressive.

 Night Watch
The images of the city streets are also well presented, with lots of detail and the city lights all glow brightly. The night watchers' big yellow truck also looks fantastic with much of the detail within the decorated cabin looking great.

Unfortunately beyond the use of bright colours, everything else does very little to call attention to itself. The transfer holds up in the darker scenes but never really does anything to impress. Everything just becomes quite standard and whilst I’m sure this is still heaps better than the standard definition it certainly goes largely unnoticed in a Blu-ray catalogue.

Audio


Once again with the audio, there’s nothing really of note here. It’s a solid audio mix with some nice touches in places. A few moments really use the 5.1 system in dynamic ways to help enhance the movies more trippy moments, especially when ‘the gloom’ tries to take over the boy but in general it’s a very standard affair that treats the front channels as separate entities to the rears and rarely do they cross over.

 Night Watch

Extras


There are two sets of commentaries, one audio one text. The audio comes from director Timur Bekmambetov, which is a delight. He seems genuinely surprised that his movie has done so well globally and he offers a lot of detail on the story's history. There are quite a few quiet moments throughout, but when watched with the text commentary by the novelist Segel Lukyanenko, which gives a lot of insight into the original book and how it’s different from the film, it makes for quite a nice viewing experience.

There are seven deleted scenes (28:42) with or without the director’s commentary. They all vary in quality and worth and seem to include a lot more madcap or trippy moments that they decided against and an alternative ending that attempts to explain a few things a little clearer.

The making of (39:03) seems to be an original making of for Russia. It’s quite informative and full of stories about finding the characters and is inter-cut with plenty of clips and on set filming.

‘Night Watch Trilogy’  is really a little bit of a taster for Day Watch and with a little information on how the trilogy will play out (with a run time of 03:27, the key word here is 'little').

‘Characters, Stories,& Subtitles’ (05:06) and ‘Characters and Themes’ (5:15) are EPK style shorts that are glossy and quite similar to one another. Fluff pieces at best really.

Comic Book Still Gallery (08:44) is exactly what it says it is, set to the score from the film. ‘Poster Gallery’ is a collection of some of the weird-ass designs the movie had from around the globe. Not one really summing up the movie in a single image but well worth checking out for their absurdity.

 Night Watch

Overall


Night Watch is the first in a planned trilogy, and while I’d imagine that this first chapter won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, mainly due to the fact that it places a lot of faith in its audience ability to perceive, it really is a great first act. I for one got totally sucked into its unfolding tale, feeling as if I’ve missed the boat on this franchise and getting the sudden pressing desire to see Day Watch before the last instalment arrives.

The Blu-ray itself seems to be the best the movie has ever looked, if the standard definition clips from the extras is anything to go by anyway. The features cover enough to be acceptable, especially the two commentaries and overall I have to say that I had an unexpectedly great time with Night Watch and all it had to offer.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.


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