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Night Watch
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by Mel Valentin

"Messy, muddled, but (mostly) worth the wait."
3 stars

After almost two years, "Night Watch" ("Nochnoy dozor"), a Russian fantasy/horror/action film based on the first novel in writer Sergei Lukyanenko's trilogy, finally makes it's debut on American shores (during the lengthy delay, the sequel, "Day Watch" has been produced and released). Was it worth the wait? Yes and no. While Russian audiences made "Night Watch" a box-office hit (it went on to break box-office records in 2004), American audiences will find that it doesn't quite live up to the hype or the promise. "Night Watch" is convoluted, messy, chaotic, and obviously suffers in translation (especially for the vast majority of Western audiences unfamiliar with the source materials). On the level of visuals and action, though, "Night Watch" delivers (with one or two exceptions).

Adapted by Lukyanenko and director Timur Bekmambetov, Night Watch opens with not one, but two paragraphs. In the first prologue, two heavily armed medieval armies, one representing Light, the other Darkness, meet in bloody battle on a stone bridge overlooking a river. After much bloodletting and random dismemberment, the leaders of the two armies, Gesser (Vladimir Menshov) and Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitsky) call a truce. The truce gives each side complementary powers. The forces of Light police the forces of Darkness through the Night Watch. The forces of Darkness police the forces of Light through the Day Watch.

Flash forward more than half a millennium. Anton Gorodetsky (Konstantin Khabensky) obtains the services of an old witch, Darya Schultz (Rimma Markova), to help him save his marriage. Darya warns Anton that his wife is carrying another man's child, but offers to use black magic to help. Anton at first agrees, but then changes his mind. Luckily, the Night Watch storm in, saving Anton from the witch and the consequences of his actions. Post-scuffle, Anton learns that he is an Other, endowed with supernatural abilities (he's a seer who gets brief glimpses of the future). The Night Watch recruits Anton to join them.

Flash forward again, this time twelve years. Anton, awakened from alcohol-induced slumber, is sent to track Yegor (Dmitri Martynov), a young boy telepathically called by something supernatural. Anton's intervention leads to a violent row with two vampires. They complain about the rules and claim that Yegor is fair game. Luckily, Anton's backup team intervenes again, saving Anton. Anton and his new partner, Olga (Galina Tyunina), are sent to protect Yegor at his mother's apartment. Meanwhile, a vortex focused on an apartment complex grows in strength. The vortex may or may not portend the apocalypse. We also learn that a Great Other, choosing one side over another, will break the uneasy truce struck made hundreds of years ago (no guesses as to who the messiah or anti-messiah character is).

While Night Watch's genre trappings and borrowings from other films are evident in every frame (e.g., The Matrix, Blade, Underworld, Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, even Blade Runner's rooftop scene gets one or two nods), Bekmambetov elevates Night Watch above other mediocre genre entries through style, style, and more style (for the random assortment of impressively staged set pieces, with one major exception, the rooftop finale). Bekmambetov shows off his visual talents best in a scene where Anton and Olga have to enter an interstitial negative space, the Gloom, to find a scared Yegor. The scene ends with Anton and Yegor sprawled on the floor, lying in opposite directions (a visual portent, perhaps, of things to come). Bekmambetov's firm grasp of visual storytelling is one of Night Watch's strengths (the other being the flawed, ambiguous characters found on both sides of the supernatural divide).

As expected from the first entry in a trilogy, Night Watch leaves multiple questions and situations unresolved, but even as the first entry in a planned trilogy, Night Watch falters under the usual problems associated with book-to-screen adaptations, e.g., the need to compress or eliminate subplots and characters from the source novel. Oddly, expository information is often repeated, sometimes more than once, while other information (e.g., what supernatural powers Others actually have) remains murky. Characters introductions are also mishandled, making it difficult, if not impossible to care for them. To be fair, Bekmambetov probably assumed that Night Watch's audiences have read the original source novels or are otherwise already with the trilogy.

One minor, if still troubling issue, is worth mentioning. In the second scene, the witch informs Anton that killing the unborn fetus his wife is carrying is a grievous sin. It's an odd piece of politics to slip into an otherwise lightweight, derivative, fantasy/horror film. That aside, Bekmambetov and Lukyanenko have produced a promising beginning to the series. With so many loose story threads and unresolved conflicts to ponder and speculate on, there’s little question that the second and third films in the series will be eagerly anticipated stateside (as they have been in Russia and Europe).

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12039&reviewer=402
originally posted: 02/18/06 00:36:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/20/17 morris campbell solid horror fantasy film plots a bit messy though 4 stars
5/14/10 Alex Thorne calling this Russia's version of The Matrix is unjustified. Night Watch is Much Better! 5 stars
4/11/10 mr.mike It was mildly diverting. 3 stars
11/21/07 fools♫gold Curse me for not thinking of a quote! I won't forget my watch of this. 5 stars
8/02/07 TigerSlap Erik Childress is a pseudo-intellectual A-hole - this movie is good! 5 stars
10/24/06 Marc I will never get those 2 hours back 2 stars
8/10/06 Dominick AWESOME MOVE.. don't listen to this Erik asshole 5 stars
6/12/06 Michael Good review, but the movies was overblown. 2 stars
3/27/06 Danny Johanson This movie was absolutely excellent and visually stunning. 5 stars
3/05/06 Mushuga See the Russian version!!!! Because...well...that one sucks, too. 1 stars
3/05/06 Butterbean Appears to be setting us up for a better sequel. Please stop shaking cameras for "action". 3 stars
3/02/06 Roger Warner I was entertained. 4 stars
3/02/06 Mungface From the ads and the advanced hype, I didn't expect something so bland. 3 stars
2/28/06 Darren Shea Visuallly inventive, but hampered by a confusing plot. 3 stars
2/27/06 Ole Man Bourbon A very boring combination of Matrix: Revolutions and Dr. Quinn, Medecine Woman. Awful. 1 stars
2/27/06 Joshua Keep in mind its for russian, not western audiences. Starts solid then gets very silly. 3 stars
2/24/06 Bitchum Not really a whole lot there. A barrage of effects and a jumble glitz pile of a story. 3 stars
2/21/06 dredphul Interesting visuals, the story is messy and incomprehensible at times 4 stars
2/20/06 Leia Meh...didn't do a whole lot for me. Not awful, but...a little nuts with the FX. 3 stars
2/18/06 Galliwertz Had some good stuff, indeed, but not enough of it...and the ending sucked. 3 stars
11/22/05 Nadia the best movie to come out of russia 5 stars
10/25/05 Minista The Wickedist 5 stars
10/23/05 Vladimir First real Russian intervantion into Holywood soil 4 stars
10/19/05 CONSTANTINE AWESOME, It's 'Highlander', 'Constantine' & 'The Matrix' mixed in with VODKA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 stars
10/16/05 M visually perfect.....not much else. 2 stars
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  17-Feb-2006 (R)
  DVD: 20-Jun-2006



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