Monday, September 26, 2011

Better Than Its First Part, Daywatch Still Disappoints With "The Chalk Of Fate"

The Good: Interesting concepts, Decent plot, Good acting
The Bad: Entirely dependent upon first movie - yet does not work with it, DVD bonus features
The Basics: Daywatch concludes the story from Nightwatch, almost completely divorced from that first episode (thankfully and unfortunately).

As I prepared to leave for my yearly trip to Las Vegas at the end of last month, I finally was able to get ahold of a DVD of Nightwatch, a movie I had been longing to see for quite some time. The last thing I did before hopping into my car to zip out to the West was write a review of Nightwatch (that's here!) and I cannot adequately describe my disappointment in that movie. After all of the good things I heard about it, it was visually confused, dull and poorly put together. And even more annoying than all that, the DVD features the director teasing the viewer by saying "I'm not going to explain it."

Thanks a lot Timur Bekmambetov!

So, when I returned home, my library had managed to get in a copy of Daywatch, the sequel to Nightwatch and a movie I now had a lot more trepidations about seeing. Daywatch resolves the story that was supposed to be a trilogy (fortunately) and the good news is that it is better than the first installment, both visually and as far as the story goes. Unfortunately, the climax to Daywatch makes absolutely no sense without having seen the first film. In other words, if you want to enjoy Daywatch, you have to suffer through the suck that is Nightwatch. On the balance, it's a serious cointoss as to whether it's worth it or not, but as a standalone movie, even if it doesn't make sense in the end, Daywatch is all right.

Having lost Yegor to the Dark Others, Anton has taken on an apprentice in his newly expanded role in the Nightwatch. His protege, Svetlana, is instantly more powerful than he is, chasing Yegor into the Second Level of Gloom (a dark territory that Anton himself is unable to breach). Inside, Svetlana is attacked, but she survives and in the process, Anton begins to consider what it might actually mean for the forces of good to lose the war. His supervisor, Geser, clues him in to the reality of a mystical artifact known as the Chalk of Fate, which appears to be in the hands of the Daywatch and the Dark Others.

Anton is targeted by the Daywatch, framed for killing Dark Others (which violates the rules of the truce from the bridge, which put the Others influencing the humans and not shooting at one another). To keep him safe, Geser compels Anton to switch bodies with a woman and it is only when trapped there that Anton is able to confess his love to Svetlana. The Dark Others exploit this and it all comes to a head with a challenge that pits Yegor and Svetlana against one another, with Anton caught in the middle!

If it doesn't make sense, I wish I could say that it would if you had seen Nightwatch, but the truth is that after multiple viewings of that movie, I had no idea that Yegor, the prophecy child, was Anton's son! In Daywatch it is obvious from almost the very beginning, but if it was in Nightwatch, I missed it completely.

Daywatch is good for explaining itself more than its predecessor. As a result, things make a lot more sense, even if the appearance of the Chalk Of Fate seems a bit campy and abrupt. This is a powerful mystical artifact, never alluded to before, and it seems to have the power to undo everything that is wrong. Of course, coming off Nightwatch, viewers might assume that what is truly wrong (other than that movie being a mess) is that Yegor is now a Dark Other. After all, the first movie was set up with the idea that this is the defining cataclysmic event and that whichever way Yegor went, it would irrevocably turn the tide between the Dark and Light Others.

Fortunately, in Daywatch, there is the plot-convenient Chalk Of Fate that is even more powerful than the Prophecy Child and his supposed invincibility. Sigh.

Better than the sudden conflict within Anton which results in his not wanting to take on his child, Daywatch peppers the supporting characters with . . . well, character. Geser seems to have a little inappropriate relationship with one of his subordinates and his counterpart in the Daywatch, Zavulon, is jealous of Kostya, the young vampire, who seems to have a thing for his lover. Svetlana is motivated by love and Anton suddenly has a very significant stake in the war whatwith his child being the one who can bring about the apocalypse, at least to Moscow.

In other words, Daywatch makes more sense (in addition to visually) because the characters make more sense. They have a very classic sense of motivation to them and many of them are emotionally damaged or are trying to make the best of a bad situation. Kostya's father, the butcher, for example, is clearly feeling guilty over his son's condition and he does whatever he can as a father to try to make things right for the boy. There are people in this installment (Inquisitors) who the members of the Nightwatch and Daywatch are accountable to, as evidenced when Anton is hunted for his alleged crimes.

And Daywatch makes for a more sensible movie without sacrificing the distinct visual sense that defined the first film. Director Timur Bekmambetov does not seem as obsessed with proving that Russian cinema can keep up with special effects. Nightwatch sometimes seemed like it desperately wanted to be The Matrix (reviewed here!) and Daywatch seems like it might have gotten over that compulsion. Instead, it focuses on telling a story. In the commentary track, it Bekmambetov admits that the films were supposed to be a trilogy, but the last two movies were condensed into this single movie. As a result, the director seems like he is forced to tell the story as opposed to try to make a flashy movie.

This works well for him and for the viewer.

Unfortunately, much of the movie is still utterly ridiculous. The best example happens in the very first moments of the movie. Daywatch opens with the establishment of the Chalk of Fate. The little story is told of how the Chalk of Fate is a powerful artifact hidden in an impenetrable fortress. In this film, though "impenetrable" means "yields the first time a horse hits it." Yes, after being told how impossible the Chalk of Fate is to get to, the invading army simply rides through the walls of the fortress and takes it. There are no gimmicks, no magic; it would be laughable if the setup were not so melodramatic.

What Daywatch has as well is better acting than its predecessor. Mariya Poroshina shines as Svetlana, despite her character's initial wimpy characterization. Dmitry Martynov has grown up some as Yegor and he has some body to him that gives him more of a presence on screen than in the first film. He actually seems menacing, evil and substantial in Daywatch. Moreover, the supporting actors like Vladimir Menshov (Geser), Viktor Verzhbitsky (Zavulon), and Valeri Zolotukhin (Kostya's father) all seem much more comfortable in their roles. Indeed, they seem to understand the story that is being told and they bring that to bear in their performances.

Konstantin Khabensky who plays Anton likewise seems to get what he is doing. He presents Anton as a hero in the process of becoming and he is great in moments when he has to move more feminine or act drunk. Khabensky is responsible for grounding the film and making the characters make sense and he works perfectly for that.

On DVD there are theatrical trailers and one of the most worthless commentary tracks ever produced. On it, an unnamed individual tries (approximately every five minutes) to get Timur Bekmambetov to talk about the movie and it's like listening to him pull teeth. The director says one or two things, then clams up . . for significant amounts of time. It's dull and the director does not seem to want to talk about his masterpiece, making it seem almost like a parody of a commentary track.

Who will like Daywatch? I'm a big science fiction/fantasy fan and I'm not sure it's an easy sell even for genre fans. Horror fans won't find it scary or dark enough, science fiction fans will find it too amateurish or obvious and fans of straightforward dramas are likely to find the supernatural elements offputting and confusing. I enjoyed it more than Nightwatch, but given the choice, I would not recommend it more than something that made a lot more sense on its own, like The City Of Lost Children (reviewed here!).

Ultimately, this is a decent little Russian action-adventure film that only makes sense if one has suffered through the first part. And I'm not one to recommend suffering.

For other dark fantasy or science fiction films, please visit my reviews of:
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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