Night Watch [Nochnoi Dozor]

| August 22, 2005

Forces for evil, goodness and the unseen denizens in between have been a part of every culture. Ever curious about the possibility of hidden influences, I look forward to films that explore alternative worlds and unseen forces.
The best of this genre convincingly pulls one into the center of fantastic possibilities and offers up plausible insight and revelation into their nature. The great films, ET, The Shining, Matrix, The Exorcist, Blair Witch, Alien, Close Encounters, Spirited Away etc. succeed because the integrity of the details are firmly rooted in the film’s premise creating a seamless and convincing reality. One little untrue, rushed or lazy moment, something that doesn’t add up and believability is torn. True for any type of film but especially the fantasy genre. I know the film has succeeded in weaving a pure fabric when an altered perception of the world and the vision of the filmmaker stays with me long after I leave the theater.
I went with great enthusiasm to see Russia’s current offering, Nightwatch an epic special effects entry into the supernatural fantasy film genre based on a popular science fiction novel by Sergei Lukyanenko. He co-wrote the script with director Timur Bekmambetov. The film offers its version of the timeless, endless, ongoing, when will it end…you get the picture, battle between the forces of good and evil. Long ago these forces meet at opposing sides of a bridge. Neither want to back down to let the other pass. (One would think that the light side would generously let the dark side go first. Wouldn’t manners prevail on the light side?) Apparently the light is just as territorial as the dark and a great battle ensues on the bridge. Evenly matched with no hope of either side winning the leaders agree to divide time up with the dark forces ruling the day and light, the night. Go figure. The film jumps forward into contemporary life and the visit of a young man, played by the excellent Konstantin Khabensky, to a local witch, Sorceress Olga, a no nonsense Russian woman played with delightful matronly evil by Galina Tyunina. He wants assistance with what else? Girlfriend problems. He was left for another man and he wants her back. He is told she is pregnant and believing it’s by his rival’s seed, he gives the witch permission to send an abortion spell. As the witch sends off some particularly potent mojo the room erupts into chaos as the agents of light appear and wrestle her and the spell to the ground. Turns out she’s working for the forces of darkness, the boy is destined to be a particularly powerful force for potential goodness and the hapless man is the true father. The film again jumps into the future and the long, long story begins. The sequels Day Watch and Dusk Watch are in the works.
The film is a rousing rock n roll special effects extravaganza and employs some very effective imagery. The actors are all game and fun to watch but the director seems to work hard at being bigger better and more imaginative than…well, American films. That sense of competing, compromises its reason for being. The story suffers by being over layered with events, situations, subplots as well as a whirlwind of imagery and one just gets spun out of the loop. Although the film is worth seeing for the very cool special effects, rock n’ roll soundtrack and rugged action, there is a darkness and mysticism in the Russian soul that is worthy of exploration and expression within this genre. Unfortunately this isn’t the film to do it.

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