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NIGHT WATCH

For this, the first-ever Russian blockbuster, director Timur Bekmambetov plundered the tried-and-true Hollywood blockbuster formula and emerged with a pleasing concoction.   NIGHT WATCH does, however, contain more than its share of flaws! 

The Package 
     NIGHT WATCH (NOCHNOI DOZOR), released to massive success in its native Russia in 2004, was based on a bestselling trilogy of novels by Sergei Lukyanenko.  That trilogy appeared in English language editions in 2006 and ’07, respectively, thus affording Westerners a chance to experience a very Russian-centric but wildly enjoyable literary epic that expertly blends horror and science fiction.  Filmmaker Timur Bekmambetov (who went on to helm the 2008 Angelina Jolie vehicle WANTED) took a similar slant in adapting the series, which thus far has given us the films NIGHT WATCH (released in the West in 2006) and DAY WATCH (released in Russia in 2005 and the US in ’07), with a third installment currently being developed in conjunction with Twentieth Century Fox. 

The Story 
     Anton is an agent of the Night Watch, a band of “Others” (supernaturally endowed humans) dedicated to doing good.  Anton and his fellow Night Watchers are charged with monitoring Moscow at night so the bad Others--vampires, witches, shape-shifters, etc.--won’t get out of line.  That faction in turn has a Day Watch to keep the good Others at bay.  In this way an uneasy truce is maintained between the two factions, mediated by a band of impartial Others called the Inquisition.  But the dark Others are always trying to tip the balance, which makes Anton’s job interesting.
     Anton’s current assignment is Yegor, a young boy who becomes seduced by the call of a vampire.  Anton and his fellow Night Watchers are called in to investigate, as psychic influence is a violation of Night Watch rules.  But while shadowing the boy on a crowded subway Anton notices a young woman with a vortex over her head, which is causing all sorts of trouble to the people and objects surrounding her.  She’s been cursed, and the only way to reverse that curse is to find out who invoked the vortex.
     Anton continues following Yegor, and saves him from a band of renegade vampires.  From there Anton takes Yegor back to his apartment while Anton’s co-workers attempt to track down the source of the curse afflicting the woman he saw on the subway.  The vortex over the woman’s head, meanwhile, grows increasingly malignant, nearly crashing a plane and blacking out Moscow. 

The Direction 
     In the best Hollywood blockbuster tradition, NIGHT WATCH is bright, loud and packed to the brim with CGI.  Timur Bekmambetov uses techniques made popular by Hollywood moviemakers like Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, David Fincher and the Wachowski Brothers, with Russian mainstays like Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Tarkovsky left far behind.  The film moves extremely fast and contains a thrill at a rate of (at least) one per every three minutes.  It’s very audience friendly, in short, and great fun to look at (which extends to the English subtitles, specially designed by the director and made to flicker, dissolve and move around the screen), not to mention deeply impressive in the way Bekmambetov packs in so much high tech wonder at a fraction of the cost of most Hollywood pictures.
     There are problems, though.  The narrative is wobbly and often incoherent, fully comprehensible only to those who’ve read the book.  Important elements like the Gloom (an alternate reality accessible solely by Others) are inadequately explained, while others are conveyed in puzzling fashion (such as the vortex swirling over the cursed woman’s head, visualized for some unfathomable reason as a flock of crows, which makes one wonder where all those birds came from).  It seems that Bekmambetov was so overanxious to thrill he let quite a few details slide. 
     In this funhouse atmosphere the performances, by many of Russia’s top actors, barley register, and the complex socio-political backdrop of the books has been largely subsumed.  But as wild, visionary, go-for-broke entertainment, NIGHT WATCH delivers. 


Vital Statistics 

NIGHT WATCH (NOCHNOI DOZOR)
Fox Searchlight Pictures/Channel One Russia 

Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Producers: Anatoly Maximov, Konstantin Ernst
Screenplay: Timur Bekmambetov, Sergei Lukyanenko
Cinematography: Sergei Trofimov
Editing: Dmitri Kiselev
Cast: Konstantin Khabensky, Vladimir Menshov, Valeri Zolotukhin, Mariya Poroshina, Galina Tyunina, Yuri Kutsenko, Aleksei Chadov, Zhanna Friske, Ilya Lagutenko, Viktor Verzhbitsky, Rimma Markova, Mariya Miranova, Dmitry Martynov
 


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