‘Night’ Lights Up Russia

‘Night Watch,’ directed by Timur Bekmambetov, opened in American theaters this past week and made its splash down at University Center Theater. The movie is one of the highest grossing movies of all time made in Russia, beating ‘Spiderman 2’ and ‘Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,’ and is the first installment of a trilogy based on novels by Sergei Lukyaneko.
Set in present-day Moscow, ‘Night Watch’ is premised on the epic battle between the forces of light and dark. There have always been ‘Others’ who live among mankind, including witches, vampires and shape-shifters.
The Others are divided into two types, Light Others and Dark Others. Dark Others plague mankind, torturing and seeding terror among man, while Light Others work to try and protect mankind against the soldiers of the dark.
Thousands of years ago, fighting broke out between the light and dark, and both leaders realized that their forces were evenly matched. To end the fighting, the Lord of the Light and the General of Darkness made a truce: no one would be forced into choosing light or dark. Rather, all Others could choose freely for themselves. To uphold this truce, the Light Others, called Night Watch, would patrol the dark while the dark would patrol the light, called Day Watch.
From this conflict between dark and light comes an ancient prophecy that the Great One will arrive and interrupt the balance between light and dark by choosing one over the other.
The movie centers on the search for the Great One, led by Anton Gorodetsky, a Light Other who is a seer, able to glimpse snippets of the future. Gorodetsky attempts to search for the Great One while simultaneously stopping a cataclysmic vortex, brought about by a powerful curse, from destroying Moscow.
While the struggle between light and dark is a tale that underlies the vast majority of action, sci-fi and fantasy movies, ‘Night Watch’ sets the tale in the interesting context of the truce that was formed. Even though the prophecy of a Great One interrupting the balance between good and bad is a common theme, it is the unique premise of the truce that keeps this story line from falling into the typical battle between the forces of light and dark. The movie does an excellent job of building suspense between a pair of double climaxes. I found myself always wanting to know what was next at the end of each scene and line within the movie.
Unfortunately, the resolution to these pair of climaxes is decidedly anticlimactic, though one of them has a definite twist on it. Because the plot conflicts are resolved too quickly, they almost feel like a cop-out, especially since the writers do such a good job building up to the resolutions. Still, the resolution to the second climax is an excellent setup for the rest of the trilogy, ‘Day Watch’ and ‘Dusk Watch,’ which will later be released in America. This setup helps alleviate the disappointment brought about by the resolution to the first climax.
While the story line for ‘Night Watch’ is solid enough to drive the narrative, the cinematics and editing give the film a very gritty, realistic feel that befits it as one of the most expensive Russian films made to date. Bekmambetov is a music video turned feature movie director, and his visual style befits his experience. ‘Night Watch’ has fast-paced, frenetic feel to its shots, with a host of special effects that are extremely well-done, highly polished and stylized. Even better is that the special effects actually help drive the story forward. They serve as a decided break in the current line of Hollywood movies that try to visually bedazzle you simply because some special effects house figured out a very cool effect and wanted to show it off. In essence, the difference between ‘Night Watch’ and any equally effects-laden movie is that ‘Night Watch’ does it for a reason, whereas Hollywood does it simply because it can.
The attention to detail is also impressive, whether it be the editing, effects, shot angle or setting itself. The best example of this is the subtitles; ‘Night Watch’ is a subtitled movie, originally filmed in Russian. However, even the subtitles are animated, fading words in and out to emphasize that a character has been mortally wounded, flickering and wafting away like a scent on a breeze. It’s evident that the director is using every aspect of the film medium to get his story across and build it up.
If you’re in the mood for a good sci-fi movie, or you’re receptive to the genre, I would definitely recommend buying a ticket and watching ‘Night Watch.’ It is relatively unique and entertaining even if it does have a pair of major let-downs, and its visual style is definitely equal to, if not better than today’s pointlessly effects-laden Hollywood releases. If you are not a science-fiction fan, you may still enjoy the movie, but I would caution them simply because vampires, shape-shifters and witches are difficult to watch if you’re just not into them.