Saturday, May 13, 2006

Night Watch - Theatrical Release - review

Director: Timur Bekmambetov

Release Date: 2004

Contains spoilers

Night Watch or Nochnoy Dozor is a fantasy action movie, whilst it is not primarily a vampire movie it certainly involves vampires. The UK DVD is a two disc set, disc one has the film is Russian, with subtitles, and in English Dub. This review, however, is of the version of the movie on Disc 2, which was the UK theatrical release.

The Theatrical release was in Russian with subtitles, but those subtitles were something special. There is a scene with a young boy, Yegor (Dmitry Martynov), swimming that I have screen captured to illustrate this. As he swims his nose starts to bleed as a vampire summons him. Notice the first subtitle, in red like his blood as she says “come”, then notice the second screen capture as the word “come” begins to break apart swirling like his blood in the water.

At other times, say when a character is having trouble speaking, the subtitles might fade in and out as they speak or subtitles of shouted words might rush larger and larger towards the screen. Never is it impossible to read the subtitles, but the subtitles are very much part of the film and I would urge anyone buying the DVD to watch the theatrical release rather than the plain subtitled or dubbed version.

The film starts in the dark ages. We discover that there is a type of people called the others, human but with special powers. These others were split into two factions, the dark brought suffering to humanity and the light tried to defend humanity. One day the forces of light, led by Geser (Vladimir Menshov), and the forces of dark, led by Zavulon (Victor Verzhbitsky), met upon a bridge and a battle ensued. Geser realised that the two armies were equally matched, stopped the battle and a truce was called. No-one, from that day, would be forced to join dark or light, the choice must be by free will. The light would form the Night Watch to police the dark and the dark would form the Day Watch to police the light in return. Prophecy told that there would come an other, more powerful than the rest, who would chose dark or light, breaking the truce and tipping the balance forever.

Cut to 1992 and a young man, Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), goes to a witch (Rimma Markova) as his wife has left him. He is told that she can return her to him but his wife carries a child, not his, that will draw her away again. The witch can cause the wife to miscarry but the sin will be his. He agrees, but then panics. Suddenly Night Watch officers burst into the room to stop the witch. They are in a place called the gloom; a deadly world of shadows parallel with our own that only others can enter and see, yet Anton sees them. They prevent the witch finishing her ritual and realise that Anton is an other, he is a seer.

Twelve years later Anton is a Night Watch officer, having chosen the light. He is sent to track down a vampire, Andrei (Ilya Lagutenko). Andrei’s newly turned girlfriend, Larisa (Anna Dubrovskaya) is using “the call” to bring Yegor, from the swimming pool, to them. Anton can find them by drinking pig’s blood, only drunk when tracking vampires, and tuning into the call. Whilst following the boy he sees a woman, Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), and has a vision of a vortex and a plane crashing. Finally he tracks the vampires down, just before they feed. After a bloody struggle he kills, rather than arrests, Andrei and Larisa escapes.

Night Watch discovers that Svetlana is ‘the virgin’; a woman cursed who, prophecy says, heralds the final battle between light and dark. Anton is sent to discover who cursed her, to try and prevent that battle. He wants to protect Yegor who, he discovers, is his ex-wife’s son. However, whilst he tackles Svetlana, Larisa – at the urging of Day Watch – has captured the boy and demands to see Anton.

This is a brief precise that I hope, other than revealing some of the mythology and major plot points, will not have given too much of the ins and outs of the plot away. This film is a joy. Some have told me that they found it difficult to follow but I suspect that had a lot to do with getting hold of the Russian DVD, on which the English subtitles are poor to say the least. The film is inventive in all the right ways; I was most taken with the way that Zavulon augured events using a mortal combat type video game. It is also amusing to watch Yegor, after his first brush with the vampires, sharpening a stake whilst watching the Buffy episode “Buffy vs. Dracula”.

The special effects are good throughout. Some of the set pieces are excellent, such as when Night Watch officers are speeding through the city in their turbo-charged van and suddenly Zavulon is in the street before them and their van flips over him. The fight between Anton and Andrei is brutal and, unlike many films and series of this type, these guys have not suddenly become expert martial artists. It is an old fashioned slug-fest, using whatever comes to hand.

Exposition in the movie is good, but not too in your face, leaving some issues up to the audience to sort out in their own minds from the visual clues. This, however, is not a problem; it is more a case of the director not treating the audience like children. There is not necessarily a definitive ending, more an episode conclusion/cliff hanger as this is designed to be the first film in a trilogy. It must also be said that the two main plot threads are not interlinked, except in the highest sense of the oncoming battle between light and dark.

I enjoyed this film at the cinema, but was worried that a second viewing might prove less fulfilling, on the contrary, if anything I got more out of the movie. I’ll happily give this film 8 out of 10.

If you go to the official site there is both a trailer and the whole film to watch (condensed into 2 ½ minutes).

The imdb page is here.

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