Monday, November 1, 2010

Short Review: Night Watch (Timur Bekmambetov, 2004)

While it is a struggle to begin with, once one becomes accustomed to Night Watch's hyperactive visual style and gradually becomes involved with the story, this intricately plotted supernatural fantasy is stylishly produced, visually astounding and quite engaging. Commandeering one of the biggest budgets in the history of Russian cinema, Kazakhstan-born director Timur Bekmambetov, creates one of the first major blockbusters after the collapse of the Soviet Film Industry. Night Watch first appeared at the Moscow Film Festival in 2004, later becoming the highest-grossing Russian release ever and finally reaching screen in the United States in February 2006. It has later spawned a sequel, titled Day Watch.

The film opens in the Middle Ages, and a narrator explains in voice-over that Others are humans with extraordinary powers and soldiers in an eternal war; the struggle between light and dark. Following an epic battle, it is decided by the generals of both sides that no mortal shall be given a side unless they themselves choose it and members of the Dark Army are assigned to the Day Watch and the Light Army the Night Watch. This ensures a balance of power until the prophecy comes to fruition and the Great One chooses either the side of Light or Dark, thereby bringing one to prominence. The film then jumps forth to modern day Moscow and we are introduced to Anton Gorodetsky, an Other who was discovered 12 years prior following an innocent visit to a witch. Explaining that his wife had left him and was bearing the child of another man, she prepares a toxin using his blood that wills a miscarriage. She is arrested by members of the Night Watch for using dark powers before she can finish, and the team introduces Anton to the Night Watch after he reveals that he can see them. Anton is assigned to track a young boy (later revealed to be an Other himself), who is receiving 'The Call' (a psychic signal) from vampires who wish to feed. He is lured into a warehouse and in Anton's attempts to rescue the young boy, he murders one of the vampires, breaking the arranged truce and alerting the Day Watch. Earlier, when he was tracking the boy on the subway, he discovers a pretty young woman who has been cursed with the vortex of damnation. Following Anton's near-death battle with the Vampire, he is healed by Gesar (the general of the Light) and revealed the legend of a cursed virgin who brings about the sickness and death of everyone she is in contact with. A whirlwind begins to emerge above her apartment block that ultimately grows to engulf the entire city. Anton discovers that the boy is in fact his own son, born 12 years prior. With the prophecy coming to fruition through the gifted young boy, Anton, while trying to protect him from choosing the side of Dark, must also try and save the young woman from her curse and the fate of the city.

The first thing you notice about Night Watch is that it looks awesome. Immediately building a great mood, it utilizes clever special effects to really present this fantasy world, pitting supernatural warriors like shape shifters and vampires against one another. Wallowing in a post-Soviet decay, the city is essentially battling itself; in a struggle to eliminate a dread overwhelming humanity. The fight sequences are outstanding, especially when Anton battles the vampire, utilizing the reflection of the vampire in a mirror fragment, to his advantage. The soundtrack is an fantastic collaboration of metal and rock artists, and really complements the energetic visuals. While at first it seemed very silly, when it found it's niche Night Watch is a bold and ambitious project, sure to make an interesting trilogy of films for fans of this one. I thought it suffered from being a bit too busy, and took the transforming anatomy visuals a bit too far, while bordered on being confusing at times. Unless you are attuned to the fantasy genre, this often abhorrent concoction, and filmmaking style will likely not appeal to you. Awfully dubbed in English, it also has some truly cheesy dialogue. I thought Konstantin Khabensky (as Anton) gave an engaging central performance and was a likable heroic figure. After a messy opening, the middle features some visually spectacular sequences, and I found the final act to be surprisingly heartfelt. But i don't think I'm likely to revisit it again, and I can't say I'm interested in seeing the next installment either.

My Rating: 2 1/2 Stars

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