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Night Watch

2006-07-10 14:59


The war between the forces of Light and Darkness is as old as the world itself. When these two great armies met on a bridge many hundreds of years ago, they began a bloody battle that neither side could win. Instead of destroying each other they agreed to a truce - no one could be forced to do good or evil without choosing freely. The soldiers of Light, the "Night Watch", would police their Dark opponents, ensuring they kept to the truce and the Dark soliders, the "Day Watch", would return the favour. These supernatural police forces are staffed by the "Others" - people who live among mankind but have abilities far beyond mortal men. And so these two opposing forces of shape-shifters, witches, sorcerers, vampires and seers have maintained the balance for centuries. But both sides know that one day the great prophecy will come true and "The Great Other" will emerge to plunge the world into the final battle. That day is Moscow.


At face value Night Watch might sound like yet another good vs. evil fantasy flick - a low budget Lord of the Rings with subtitles. But beneath its admittedly cheesy premise is a gritty, intelligent and wonderfully inventive film that is both thrilling and thought provoking. Unlike the flashy, perfectly manicured coolness of films like The Matrix or Blade, Night Watch has an entirely different appeal - a grungy, more immediate cool that, for want of a better word, can only be called "soviet".

Much of the film's appeal rests on the great ideas it brings to bear. Based on Nochnoi Dozor (literally "Dark Patrol") a novel by acclaimed fantasy author Sergei Lukyaneko, the story is the first instalment in an epic fantasy trilogy. The idea that good and evil are in the midst of a shaky truce, policing each other's every move adds a new dimension to the standard fantasy set up. The idea of the "Others" living amongst an oblivious mankind is equally intriguing, as is the parallel world in which they fight their battles. This twilight landscape, known as "the gloom", is as dangerous as it is powerful - a dark void that will swallow up careless or inexperienced Others. Granted none of the individual ideas are entirely original - but the verve and panache with which they are combined makes for fresh and compelling viewing.

But all Lukyaneko's good ideas would be worthless without an equally bold visual approach. Luckily Timur Bekmambetov, a veteran of the advertising world, has the kind of vision necessary to bring the novel to life. What makes the visual aspects of the film particularly effective is Bekmambetov's knack for capturing the look of ordinary life and then overlaying it with the fantastic and the supernatural. The result is a ever shifting mix of the real and the imagined, a potent brew which produces a gut reaction unlike the high-stepping perfection ofThe Matrix films.

Apart from strong fundamentals the film is filled with the kind of creative flourishes and extra details that are a joy to watch. Even the subtitles are used to great effect - becoming a part of the action instead of simply text on the screen.

Of course Night Watch is not without it's problems. Some of the battle scenes are more confusing than exciting, and bad cutting damages the overall continuity of the film. If you're expecting the kind of polish that big budget Hollywood production brings to a project then you may be annoyed by the little flaws and imperfections in the film. But by far the biggest problem is the film's second half. After a thoroughly breathtaking set-up, the second act feels like an anticlimax, too quickly and conveniently resolved. This can be explained partly by the fact that it is the first part of a trilogy, but many viewers will still be irritated by it's failure to deliver on the promise of the first act.

Is it worth seeing? Absolutely. Flaws aside, this is the most exciting and fascinating fantasy film since Lord of the Rings. If anything you should watch it for a breath of fresh air, or just to hear the cast spit out their lines in what has to be one of the coolest sounding languages in the world. Give it a try - you may find yourself hoping that the sequel comes out as soon as possible.

- Alistair Fairweather

This ambitious Russian fantasy horror has more grit, originality and energy than ten Hollywood films put together.

Justae 2005/10/14 2:11 AM
Night Watch Just watching the trailer leaves me wanting for more. I can't wait to watch a decent Sci-Fi movie not made in Hollywood or the UK. Any movie filmed in a language other than English should be left as that - undubbed, using subtitling as necessary. Nothing replaces the real actors voices and emotions - dubbing takes this all away. Here's waiting for this movie, bring it on! Underworld, Equilibrium, Gattaca, Dark City, Bram Stokers Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, Brasil, The Man who Would be King
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