PictureNight Watch comes to Blu-ray in a theatrically correct 1.85:1 ratio with a 1080P transfer. Whilst you should not expect a stunning picture from a small budget Russian film, what I was looking for was an image as close to the cinematic version as it is possible to currently get in the home.
The title of the film might suggest a gloomy atmosphere, shadowy cinematographay, and a shadowy environment. But in fact the film is generally bright and clear. The transfer is sharp and detailed, with a pleasing sense of three dimensional depth. The colour is deliberately muted by the director, but is well represented here - looking very similar to the way it was in the cinema. Black levels are deep and natural, and the detail in the shadows is extremely well represented.
One thing that I will mention is that in the cinema, the subtitles were almost like a work of art, moving around the screen in sympathy with the action, morphing and changing colour during the film. Sadly, on this transfer we just get the standard boring white subtitles. A real disappointment - and I am not sure why they have done this.
There is some grain present during the film, but not enough to distract from the image. In fact, the present grain gives the image a pleasingly natural style and is welcome. The source is immaculate and there are certainly no defects to distract from what you are watching.
SoundWe are presented here with numerous sound options. The DTS HD from the USA disc is missing, instead we get a Dolby TrueHD track in English and Russian, the same track in DTS, and an English dub in Dolby 5.1. The dub is also presented in German, and French.
I listened to the TrueHD track mainly, but dipped into the DTS and the English dub at length.
The sound mix on the TrueHD mix is fantastic and it is hard to imagine what could have been added with the DTS HD mix. From the start, the mix is aggressive and consuming, without losing any subtlety. The music score is an eclectic mix of hard rock and classical music, both piano and orchestral and sounds amazingly clear on this disc. Despite the forward placement of the music, dialogue is always clear and never suppressed.
From the start, all the speakers are used extensively but realistically - never seeming forced and always complementing the onscreen action perfectly. The mix is loud without ever distorting and considering this was a low budget film, it is hard to imagine how the sound could be any better.
There is a notable difference with the DTS track though. Whilst all six speakers are still used extensively, and the sound field is suitably expansive, this track lacks the true high frequency sounds and deep bass that the main track exhibits. This is still a good option for those who lack the TrueHD capabilities, and if you haven't heard the main track you are unlikely to know what you are missing.
What I cannot recommend, however, is the English dub. Not only is the dubbing poor - with English being spoken in Russian accents which makes the result unintentionally humerous - but the whole track sounds hideously compressed. Not only is the dynamic range reduced dramatically but there is also subdued use of the surround channels, and the whole track is quieter. This track should really be ignored completely, unless you have a severe allergic reaction to subtitles.
ExtrasWe start with a Director's Commentary which is surprisingly poor. He clams up for long periods, adds very little of true interest, and comes across as rather arrogant with (an admittedly deserved) high opinion of his own work. You will certainly not want to revisit this more than once.
Much more interesting is a text commentary from the original novelist - explaining a lot about the influences and background to the work, and also covering what was changed from his original source. This is very interesting indeed. We also get many featurettes, with the content looking the same as the USA Blu-ray release.
These include The Making of Night Watch, a 39 minute Russian EPK piece with English subtitles. As with all EPK pieces, this offers little in the way of true insight, but does offer some superficial background information that can be quite interesting. Characters and Themes which is not on the US disc is a brief five minute featurette about the mythology of the Others, and Characters, Story and Subtitles explains the wonderfully inventive cinematic subtitles which for some bizarre reason didn't make it to this disc. This feature is on the US Blu-ray.
We then get a series of excellent Deleted Scenes. Such is the talent of the director, these are interesting to watch - even though the optional Director's Commentary offers little insight. Finally there is a series of Comic Book Stills.
VerdictNight Watch is a stunning movie. It may be densely plotted and a little hard to understand on first viewing, but it is a film that deserves and rewards repeated viewings. It displays a visual style which was unique at the time, and is a fascinating fusion of Russian culture and sensibilities with an almost Hollywood cinematic style.
The picture quality on the disc is excellent, considering the source was not a high budget production - and the TrueHD soundtrack is as dynamic and involving as the film. However, you should avoid the English dub if at all possible as the soundtrack on that is very weak.
All the extras apart from two have been gathered together from the various regional DVD releases, and this makes a comprehensive package, even if insight is lacking.
It is a great shame that the wonderful subtitles from the cinematic release are missing - WHY have they done this? Despite this glaring omission, however, I can thoroughly recommend Night Watch as a film and as a disc. This is easily the best version of one of the most unusual cinematic outings of the last decade.
Please note that the check disc we received was a UK disc, but had no region coding. We are unable to confirm if this will be the case for the retail release.
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