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November 24, 2008
Night Watch (Nochnoi Dozor) Blu-Ray Movie Review
Cinema Release Blu-Ray Release Distributor Director
11/10/200512/11/2008FoxTimur Bekmambetov
Video Codec Sound Format OFLC Rating Star(s)
AVC MPEG-4Dolby TrueHD 5.1MA15+Konstantin Khabensky

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Konstantin Khabensky as Anton Gorodetsky.

When it comes to mainstream cinema few would think of Russia having a thriving industry. They do, and one of the most successful movies in recent years is Night Watch (or Nochnoi Dozor as they call it). With a production budget of a rather paltry (compared to America) $US4.2 million - which remains one of the most expensive movies made in Russia - the film grossed four times that in its home country, and almost $US34 million worldwide making it a smash hit. But what's it about?

All That Stands Between Light And Darkness Is The Night Watch. Among normal humans live the "Others" possessing various supernatural powers. They are divided up into the forces of light and the forces of the dark, who signed a truce several centuries ago to end a devastating battle. Ever since, the forces of light govern the day while the night belongs to their dark opponents. In modern day Moscow the dark Others actually roam the night as vampires while a "Night Watch" of light forces, among them Anton, the movie's protagonist, try to control them and limit their outrage.

One could almost liken this movie to the Blade trilogy of films with two warring factions of vampires - or Others as they are called in this movie. Some of the cinematography is superb and while the visual effects are variable in quality (the yellow truck flipping over is horrendous) for such a low budget movie the results are impressive - including that of the opening prologue battle. The storyline is rather complex and will certainly be aided by the sequel Day Watch and the upcoming third movie Twilight Watch.

Director Timur Bekmambetov isn't quite the household name outside Russia, but some of you may know him from the recent Angelina Jolie action movie Wanted. He gets the best out of the actors who are all quite likable with Konstantin Khabensky starring as Anton as his world falls apart around him while the action sequences are pretty exciting and intense - including the opening prologue which has a passing resemblance to the battles in Lord of the Rings (although no where near as epic).

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Night Watch's scariest villain!
There is an annoyance with this movies release on Blu-Ray (as with the DVD release) - the subtitles. In the cinemas Night Watch contained some uniquely animated subtitles in various places. These have been replaced with standard overlaid text in this version lessening the cinematic appeal and experience. Also annoying though is that English subtitles run during the English dubbed prologue voiceover. There should have been an option to only have the subtitles during the Russian dialogue.

It must be noted that the version received on this disc is the 114 minute International version which trims about 10 minutes of footage out of the movie, and adds an English voiceover on the prologue. Despite the lack of Russian version of this film this remains a very entertaining, and somewhat different movie, that only seems to get better with repeat viewings.

Night Watch comes to Blu-Ray encoded using the AVC MPEG-4 codec at the films original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and at the standard 1080p resolution. Now we're not going to claim that this is the greatest transfer ever, technically it's not, but it certainly looks better then we would expect with rich colours and a decent amount of detail in the numerous darker scenes. The transfer exhibits a fairly steady level of grain which gives it an authentic film look.

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There's something note quite right here!
At times though I found colours to be overly bright. The witches red dress in the opening, the red dress and meat at the butchers around the 16 minute mark. It's not much, but could have been toned down a little.

Night Watch comes to Blu-Ray with several audio options. There are two primary Russian soundtracks (with English voiceovers in parts) including a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track and DTS track encoded at 768kbps. The sound design is fairly good, certainly better then one would expect from a film with such a low budget. There is some use of the surround sound channels as well as the sub woofer. Effects and dialogue are clear and while it isn't up there with mega-produced Hollywood movies this is still a very fair effort surpassing the DVD release by a fair margin.

The disc also contains English, German and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks which are encoded at 448kbps. It would have been nice to have a better quality English dub of the movie. It's not bad mind you, but a little disappointing for those that prefer that option. In fact we sampled the English dubbing and found it to be pretty good overall.

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The opening scene from Night Watch.
It is interesting to note that the American release of this disc, we believe, includes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track instead of the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track although, technically, they should be the same. They do, though, have the English dub as a DTS track which would be preferable over this Dolby Digital effort. It must also be noted that the disc does not contain the Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 track as stated on the packaging nor the English DTS 5.1 track.

We've already discussed our disappointments with the subtitles provided on this release in the main part of this review - that being the original burnt in stylish subtitles are missing. Also annoying is the English subtitles remaining during the English voiceovers for the prologue and epilogue.

Night Watch comes to Blu-Ray with a few extras ported from DVD, however none have been upgraded to HD. Still this is what we have...

Audio Commentary by Director Timur Bekmambetov: Fortunately Timur manages to speak in rather clear English but, unfortunately, the commentary isn't one of the best out there with lengthy gaps, and some questionable statements. Still, he's an interesting director with a potentially big Hollywood future so it's worth a listen.

Text Commentary by Novelist Sergei Lukyanenko: The author of the movie details story elements, how these differ from the books, and actually clears up some of the confusion in the movie. Worth putting on while watching the movie with the English dub (unless you understand Russian and put that audio on instead).

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Night Watch's Prologue is great.
Deleted Scenes (28:42): Seven deleted scenes (or more accurately extended scenes - probably from the longer Russian cut of the film) are presented here with optional commentary by director Timur Bekmambetov. Some of these scenes are actually quite good and could have been put back into the movie. Sadly they are only presented on this disc in Standard Definition, with Dolby Digital 2 channel audio at 192kbps.

The Making of Night Watch (39:03): A lengthy and fairly impressive look at the making of Night Watch. Much of this documentary is in Russian with subtitles, but there is plenty of behind the scenes footage and plenty of interviews as well.

Characters Story and Subtitles (5:06): A promotional piece looking at telling the story and the characters. The most interesting, and depressing aspect, is that they detail the importance of making the subtitles a part of the movie - but someone should have told the people encoding this disc

Characters and Themes (5:15): Another fox promotional piece which looks at the themes in the story. Not much detail here.

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A yellow van, with nitros?!
Night Watch Trilogy (3:27): The director talks about making the movie into a trilogy including how the movies differ, and how there was surprise that the first movie succeeded outside Russia.

Comic Book Still Gallery (8:44): Now this is confusing. It seems to tell the story in comic book form, but the original books were a novel so I'm not sure where this comes from. Still it's quite interesting.

Poster Gallery: Eight posters for the movie are shown in slide show form.

Night Watch isn't a movie for everyone, but it is one of the best efforts out of Russia. The storyline is pretty engaging and the visual effects, while a bit variable in quality, are admirable for a movie with such a low budget (well, compared to Hollywood). If you haven't checked this out you would do well to do so, while fans of the movie will be pleased with this High Definition transfer.

Review By: Dave Warner


Note: All images in this article are Copyrightę Fox. They are only indicative of the movie and not sourced from the vastly superior Blu-Ray disc format.