Day Watch Blu-ray Review
PictureDay Watch presents itself to us in full 1080p and AVC MPEG-4 encoded. Many will be pleasantly surprised also to hear that unlike its predecessor which arrived in academy flat widescreen 1.85:1 format, Day Watch is complete in its original theatrical anamorphic scope ratio of widescreen 2.35:1. The movie's transfer is as you'd expect much like Night Watch's before it - for the most part extremely good. The key differences to my eye seem to stem from the darker lighting and more vivid colours used in this sequel. Whilst some criticised the original for being a tad over bright with its use of light and suffering slightly from blooming I had always felt this was par for the course for such a budgeted sci fi fantasy film. Here black levels are deep but suffer slightly in places from crushing. Though it is worth noting that when occasionally parts of characters clothing and faces are lost in a blanket that continues to the edge of the screen it is more to do with a stylistic directorial decision than simple crushing. Anyone that appreciates the black and white artwork of Frank Miller will know that gradations aren't always necessary or indeed wanted when visual impact is the order of the day. There is also a fair amount of grain noticeable during these scenes and any outdoors but I'm sure many would prefer this to DNR. However move to an interior shot or intense light and the grain is not only far less noticeable but edges appear crisper and clearer.
These shots if paused show just how much facial detail is present and how well skin textures and the minutiae of the character's faces are brought to life. The end party scenes where Anton is wearing a garish shirt and has a bloodied face are particularly satisfying for their colour. It is also in these interior scenes that you can note just how washed out some exterior set pieces can seem. Though stylistically many Western audiences have come to expect such a look from Russian exteriors so just how much of a criticism that is may prove to be a personal matter more akin to the lens flare in Easy Rider than a genuine error. I thought at one moment I spotted the dreaded halo effect in a close up but luckily realised that it was the stubble on Anton's face (which couldn't have been more than a fraction of a millimetre) being impressively picked out in detail against a bright light. Indeed there are so many instances of diverse lighting techniques that it can be quite hard at times to acclimatise oneself to looking for flaws and even harder still to make a definitive ruling on the quality with such varying results.
Dependant upon how picky you are it's worth noting that there are the occasional small jerky camera movements or a slight second of what seems like a lack of focus/focal misjudgement. Interestingly enough I saw this most during a couple of interior scenes with minimal dialogue. For those who want an example, the scene where Anton/Olga is in Sveta's flat and moves to the kitchen area is perhaps the easiest to pick out. The lack of focus can be used to good effect though as seen during the special effects. This not being a blockbuster with a Hollywood sized budget meant that there was always the chance that said effects look more humorous than dangerous. Luckily though these shots are among some of the cleanest as they have clearly been pored over and had sufficient time (reportedly approximately a year) touching them up and making sure they don't detract from the experience as a whole.
There's often less grain visible as the focus tends to be somewhat softer so as to cover any cracks in the CGI. This doesn't jar though as they are usually shot at such a high pace that only the most churlish would care to watch frame by frame and at full speed with the deft camera movements of the director they are on the whole a pleasure to watch, especially considering the film's budget.
Technical issues aside the one that may truly disappoint those who saw this in the cinema will be the glaring omission of the magical, almost ethereal subtitles that appeared and dissolved in a wonderful haze. Instead we are unfortunately greeted by the standard plain text that we've all seen a thousand times before.
To sum up, the transfer is much a continuation from Night Watch. It's sharper and more detailed in places but also shows some more grain in others so balances itself out. There's a miniscule amount of compression artefacts (though one really has to look frame by frame for them) but no grand problems with other bugbears of the transfer process that could have raised their head which is immensely pleasing. Overall given the standard of many a foreign film that makes the transition to Blu-ray this has to be seen as a triumph. Perhaps I have been over critical in places as this is a fine effort with good colours and pleasing contrast. It's just not Casino Royale but frankly I'd be surprised if many niche or foreign films will measure up to that standard. Much like the film and its connection with its prequel, if you enjoyed Night Watch's picture (which i did) then i very much doubt you'll be disappointed with this offering.
SoundFirstly, let me start by saying that I spent the majority of my watching and re-watching of this film for review purposes listening to the Russian language tracks - comprising of TrueHD and DTS 5.1. I'm of the firm opinion that foreign films need to be viewed with their original actor's voices intact in order to appreciate them. The one exception I'll make being period kung fu flicks but these are very much a special case.
The centre channel works well and voices in Russian are delivered crisply and clearly, though obviously quite how concise the track is will have to remain somewhat of a mystery as, being unable to speak or understand Russian, I wouldn't be able to identify problems with minor inflections of voice or pronunciations of troublesome words. From an uneducated Englishman's point of view this dialogue sits nicely in between atmospheric sound effects without being upstaged or unnaturally loud in order to be heard. The same, I'm afraid, cannot be said for the English dub which I found at times almost painful to listen to. It's clearly overlaying the rest of the mix and this situation isn't helped at all by some of the actors involved over emphasising their lines in terms of loudness and accentuation. The saving grace of this dub is that it utilises actors who have, or approximate to a decent degree, Russian accents. Thus it's certainly less jarring than other overseas films that have found their disc based iterations lumbered with unnatural American or English accents.
I found the sub to be well utilised particularly during the opening horse charge. As with many fantasy films it generally came into it's own during the energetic set pieces and left for the more tranquil parts of the narrative. It finds itself more used in punches with only the occasional gentle rumble that fades out. This is probably par for the course for many films but there were several instances when I felt it might have been better utilised in slightly subtler ways. The surrounds aren't overworked either, but when they do get use, it's to good effect, such as for the fluttering of crows and passing traffic or a neon sign buzzing against the quiet Moscow evening. Again, it's part of the narrative style to use these sounds in fits and starts to segue between scenes. The orchestral score was a joy to hear, generally finding itself deployed during the scenes of troubling dialogue and gently sweeping along in the background without ever interfering with the clarity of voices. Even when things get louder and the rock soundtrack is released upon action scenes the vocal track always seems to have been pleasingly prioritised and given enough room to breath.
As to the difference between the DTS and TrueHD tracks, things were pretty much as most would expect. Those with the ability to hear the new lossless codecs will be presented with slightly fuller sounds that appear to have a greater range to them and some extra detail but overall I wouldn't say the two tracks are night and day (no pun intended). The DTS mix does a pleasing job of conveying much of the bombastic music and crunches whilst still allowing the score a fine degree of delicacy.
- The Making of Day Watch - 480p - Mpeg 2 - 26:08
In truth there's not much of interest here except perhaps for the Watch franchise devotee. It basically amounts to the various stars, producers and assistants all waxing lyrical about the story. They discuss what drives the character and generally reveal very little about how the film was made to justify the title of this piece. There is the occasional interesting behind the scenes moment such as when we learn how the opening action set piece of a horse charging headlong through a stronghold's walls was accomplished.
This was leading me to think that we were about to be led down a rabbit hole to see the technology and techniques that helped create the stunts, action set pieces and general photographic trickery but no. Instead we get to see a few takes of actors issuing forth different dialogue to that which we recognize from the finished product and get a glance at the fluid nature of the director's style - mingling and getting hands on to relay instructions and give out helpful advice.
The one true gem to come out of this was the revelation of quite how far Timur Bekmambetov was willing to go to realise an authentic and genuine scene. For Yegor's birthday party towards the end of the film it's revealed that essentially it was filmed during a real shindig. Guests were allowed to drink freely and shooting only began an hour later. To keep the atmosphere intact Bekmembatov used small cameras in all manner of secreted positions and gave instructions to the actors via earpieces.
All in all hardly a grand “making of” but there's enough there to keep a fan distracted for the 26 minute running time that for the most part feels like an extended advert for the film.
- Russian Trailer F - 480p - Mpeg 2 - 1:01
I'm a real fan of a well cut trailer but this is frankly painful. It's put together using melodramatic music and desperately tries to paint the film as some kind of epic love story. Whoever put this together either A) hadn't seen the film or B) had recently watched The English Patient one too many times and it's affected their work subliminally.
You know you're in for a sparse amount of extras when one of the selling points printed on the box is “Smart Menu Technology: floats on screen during playback so you never leave the film.” Thus starts the underwhelming venture into Day Watch's special features.
VerdictOn the whole Day Watch has to be considered a success in its Blu-ray incarnation. True the story isn't as tight as the first but that is a criticism that can be levelled at many sequels. The plot structure isn't as fluid and natural and at times you may not care for the humour but ultimately this film is aimed squarely at those who appreciated the first with all its flaws. Thus, being a continuation of the same story line it serves its purpose in telling the rest of the narrative that was started with Night Watch. This it does with pleasing picture quality, which ultimately is what most will prioritise when looking at Blu-ray purchases. The only real sore point is the distinct lack of extras, call me fussy but I would have appreciated a few concept art stills or the like. However you know you are not going to be getting special features of any great note when under said heading is a link to Fox.co.uk and Foxinteractive.com. Overall this is a sound outing but certainly not the definitive release if Fox ever choose to look into a possible collector's edition once the film series is complete.
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- The Making of Day Watch - 480p - Mpeg 2 - 26:08