US Release Date: 02-17-2006
Directed by: Timur Bekmambetov
- Konstantin Khabensky, as
- Anton Gorodetsky
- Vladimir Menshov, as
- Valeri Zolotukhin, as
- Kostya's Father
- Mariya Poroshina, as
- Galina Tyunina, as
- Sorceress Olga
- Yuri Kutsenko, as
- Aleksey Chadov, as
- Zhanna Friske, as
- Alisa Donnikova
- Ilya Lagutenko, as
- Andrei the Vampire
- Viktor Verzhbitsky as
Konstantin Khabensky in Night Watch.
Night Watch is one of the greatest modern fantasy film ever made. It's like Harry Potter with a Matrix sense of style, only for adults. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is that instead of coming from some big Hollywood studio, it comes from Russia. And while it most definitely remains a Russian film, its themes and its visual style are truly international.
The story is set in contemporary Moscow, but it begins with a prologue (as almost all fantasy movies do) 1,000 years ago when the forces for good and evil met in an epic battle. The two armies were made up of what is known in this mythology as 'The Others', being those humans who are born with mystical powers and are attuned to the supernatural. When it became apparent that neither side could win the battle, a truce was agreed upon, in which neither side would be allowed to influence mankind nor future Others, but would allow freewill to reign until the scales are tipped in one direction or the other. Two groups are created to guard the truce. The Night Watch is made up of good Others. They monitor the night to see that all is well, and the Day Watch does the opposite for Evil.
Following this prologue, the story jumps into the real plot in modern day Moscow and revolves around the fantasy film staple of an impending apocalyptic battle between good and evil. Despite this standard fantasy plot device, the movie still manages to be completely original and incredibly entertaining.
Anton Gorodetsky, the hero of the story, is a world-weary member of the Night Watch, who is haunted by his past and the method by which he first discovered he was an Other. As played by Konstantin Khabensky, he's an ordinary man in way over his head who's trying to do the right thing.
Visually, the movie is stunning. Without the benefit of a big budget special effects house like ILM, it still manages to create a highly stylized atmosphere with some great special effects. It's almost a certainty that you've never seen Moscow look like this. Gone is the stereotypical dreary, rainy day, grey look, replaced by a colorful world of night and shadow. And along with the new look comes a new sound in the form of a rocking soundtrack.
Apart from the opening narration, the rest of the dialogue is in Russian with subtitles. Only instead of just boringly placing the white text at the bottom of the screen, the makers of this film have cleverly worked the subtitles into the story. They're still there at the bottom of the screen, but when a vampire calls to her prey, for instance, the words are in red and they waft away like a cloud of blood. Or later, when someone is using a computer, the subtitles come up as if being typed.
My one complaint about the story is that it is heavy with a mythology that is never fully explained. It keeps the story moving quickly along, but leaves some questions unanswered. Fortunately, this is just the first in a planned trilogy, which leaves plenty of time for answers.
Night Watch is the highest grossing film in Russian history, beating even The Lord of the Rings. While it would take a miracle for that to happen here in the States, if it finds the right audience, at the very least it should develop a cult following.
Olga and Anton
I am not prepared to call Night Watch, "the greatest modern fantasy film ever made." It is certainly visually fascinating, and the plot is intricate enough to keep me guessing without being too confusing. I plan on seeing the sequel.
Scott is right that this is not how Moscow is usually shown in Hollywood films. Red Square is not featured. If I was not told, I would not have known what city this took place in. Moscow looks very contemporary.
Anton is a great hero. He has a flawed past, yet risks his life to save others. One villain calls him, "...the Light mage with a Dark past..." He almost seems too weak for the job. A plot twist makes him even more vulnerable.
The success of this movie allowed director Timur Bekmambetov to direct the Hollywood made Wanted. He seems to have a thing for vehicle stunts. He brought Konstantin Khabensky along and he has since been acting in several English speaking films.
They made the sequel Day Watch and had every intention of making the third in the series Twilight Watch, but 20th Century Fox bought the rights, and it has yet to get a green light. In the mean time Timur Bekmambetov is keeping the vampires and the action coming with his next two films, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Wanted 2. Hey, stick to what you know.
I even sympathized with this vampire.
Like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Night Watch and Day Watch movies are character driven fantasy epics. But let’s get one thing straight, they are not in the same league with that spectacular franchise. That said I do agree this is a very good movie.
After the expository prologue the story starts off intriguingly and mysteriously. As Scott said the rules and mythologies of this world aren’t spoon fed to the audience but are slowly revealed over the course of the two movies. The scene where Anton goes to the witch to get his wife back brilliantly sets the tone for what is to come. It is here that Anton first discovers he is an “Other”. The plot then jumps ahead a dozen years where we eventually learn the truth about Anton’s pregnant wife and what happened to his unborn child. The final scene sets up the sequel Day Watch.
I agree that Anton is a great hero. He is cool as hell but also realistically flawed. His partner Olga is likewise awesome. The scene where they “meet” is fascinating and well done. Together they make a truly memorable movie team.
If there is a flaw I believe it is in the relative ease with which the coming "Vortex" is stopped. Sure it is somewhat interesting when we learn just who started the curse but there is such a big build up that the instant deflation is a bit of a let down.
For all its action and special effects, Night Watch is character driven. All of the “Dark Others”, even the vampires, are fully fleshed out people. The script makes you feel sympathy for the young female vampire that was turned by her boyfriend, even though she is clearly an “evil” character. In fact the theme of Night Watch, besides being about free will, seems to be that the line between good and evil is often blurry. The so-called “Light Others” seem equally capable of committing violent deeds even if they are for the supposed greater good of mankind.
Photos © Copyright Fox Searchlight (2006)