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Day Watch (Dvevnoy Dozor)

dir: Timur Bekmambetov
[img_assist|nid=812|title=Daywatch: Better than the original, but still a piece of Russian borscht|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=369|height=277]
It’s rare than the sequel to an almost intolerable film can be watchable. I’m not talking about times where the sequel is better or still pretty good (Alien/Aliens, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, Rocky/8 Mile) than the original.

I hated, hated, hated the first flick in this series, being Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor), based on the popular novel by Sergei Lukyanenko. I thought it gave the world a barely coherent fantasy flick the likes of which the world didn’t really need. And a set of ridiculous characters with no believability even in a fantasy context and no recognisable motivations for any of the inane things they would do. It had a plot so lame in its qualities and so crappy in its realisation that the ghost of Sergei Eisentein can be seen at some points in the background shaking his head in disgust.

And the lead ‘star’! Anton (Konstantin Khobanksy) would either be or seem drunk throughout the entire goddamn flick without any explanation as to what the hell he was doing. He made less sense and seemed more sozzled than recently departed ‘statesman’ and former Premier Boris Yeltsin. Long may he remain fermented in Hell.

Well, he’s back in Day Watch, and still has random scenes where he appears drunk, but I have to admit I enjoyed this flick marginally more than the first.

Why? Well, I’m not entirely sure. I watched Night Watch on the big screen, where it looked fantastic but stunk to high heaven all the same, or whatever the Russian equivalent is. I didn’t watch Day Watch under similar salubrious circumstances, but enjoyed it marginally more.

The same characters, actors and world abound as in the first flick. Anton is the protagonist, and he is a lunatic who works for the Light, who keep in check the forces of the Dark. Geser (Vladimir Menshov) and Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) are the respective leaders, who have observed an uneasy truce over the centuries between the two forces. Of course, you can never trust the Dark to abide by the truce for too long.

At the end of Night Watch, a terrible decision in Anton’s past leads to the scales being tipped in the Dark’s favour by the defection of Anton’s son Yegor (Dmitry Martynov) over to their cause. As this next instalment begins, the pursuit of an ancient artefact, being, I shit you not, the Chalk of Destiny, which is a magical piece of chalk if I ever heard of one, points further to the Dark, I dunno, achieving dominion over the world.

Yegor becomes more and more enmeshed in Zavulon’s naughty ways as the various soldiers of the Light and Dark fight to get control of the Chalk. That goddamned chalk…

The Chalk of Destiny was once possessed by Mongol warlord Tamerlane, and has the property of being able to write backwards through time. If I had possession of the chalk, I could, as an example, after watching this film, write a message for myself on the wall adjacent to the theatre entrance. The message would read “Don’t waste your precious time on this stinky flick.” What would happen is that the words would appear on the wall in the past, so that when I was on my way in to the theatre, I’d be able to see the message I’d written in the future, and I wouldn’t watch the goddamn film in the first place.

If that makes sense to you, then do I have a Russian over-edited contemporary fantasy flick for you!

Anton is aided in his efforts to, I dunno, get the chalk and make up with his son, by Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), the so-called Virgin who nearly accidentally destroyed the world at the end of the first film. They seem to be falling into gooey, adolescent love as well, which warms a part of my heart that I was sure had been destroyed by years of smoking and hard alcohol.

Anton is also apparently framed for the deaths of some of the vampires who populate the ranks of the Dark, and is at risk of being put down by his own crew. He also gets drawn closer and closer to the Dark by routinely imbibing blood, which makes him act like a drunken fuckwit, but also makes him closer to being one of the Dark himself. His previous friendship with his neighbour Kostya (Valeri Zolotuhkin) is further jeopardised by the murders. Kostya himself is brought into the action by developing a strange sexual relationship with pop star Alisa (Zhanna Friske) an older vampire close to Zavulon. Yes I know how needlessly complicated it all sounds.

Anton’s co-workers on the Light side are made up mostly of sorcerers and shapeshifters who are defined by singular characteristics, and don’t even possess enough traits to be labelled two dimensional. Among them is owl-girl Olga (Galina Tyunina), who gets to elaborate more on her and Geser’s pasts together, and the mistakes they’ve made and paid for.

It’s the same kind of nonsense as the first, filled to bursting with subplots and extraneous characters, with plenty more going on than there needs to be. It builds to a climactic birthday party for Yegor, where everything is meant to be permanently sorted out for all concerned if, I dunno, something occurs in time preventing the world from being destroyed.

What’s most remarkable about all of this, apart from the magnitude of the reset button ending which renders everything that has occurred in both films redundant, is the fact that the resolution for both films hinges on one very simple and very human issue: that of abortion. You will never see a more complicated, elaborate or fantastical argument against abortion as this story puts together. The horrible act of abortion by sorcery that Anton tried to achieve at the beginning of the first film is what allows for all these battles and all these apocalyptic times to ensue.

For fans of fantasy stuff, it’s probably novel to see how the Russians handle it, and it’s certainly not an incompetently put together sequence of films. It’s certainly not substantially worse than most contemporary fantasy pumped out by the States with vampire mercenaries, werewolves, demons, Keanu Reeves, crosses and stakes in every fifth movie that comes out. It certainly looks nice, with a bigger budget than twenty Russian films put together. The acting, except for the Anton character, is pretty entertaining even when the story isn’t, which makes it more enjoyable. Still, I can’t pretend that my eyes have been opened or that I fully get everything that went on in either flick. A lot of the references feel like Russian insider jokes that us foreigners aren’t really going to get.

The only thing I really liked about the first film was the novel manner in which the subtitles had been put together, the rest actively irritated me. I didn’t hate Day Watch as much, which is no ringing recommendation, to be true. But, again, truth be told, when the totally unearned and cheesy happy ending rolled around, it didn’t make me want to punch kittens in the face; it actually made me smile a little as the credits rolled along in their merry way.

Mind you, me being a little happy means that I’m in a mood just marginally less prone to wanting to invade Poland all over again.

And, no, I wasn’t drunk when I saw either of these Russian box office behemoths. And I don’t recommend them to anyone either. But I wouldn’t be totally averse to seeing the third instalment which is yet to be finished (Dusk Watch, even though there’s no logical way to continue the story after that ending).

5 times I’m happy to have come up with the powerful marketing quote: "Day Watch-Not as Crappy as Night Watch" out of 10

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“You can’t even control your own fate” - Day Watch.

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