Friday, November 26, 2010

Night Watch (2004): The Terror of Spastic Director Syndrome

The establishing prologue for Night Watch (Nochnoy dozor in the original Russian) is not encouraging – two fantasy armies are doing battle, but they’re slightly cheesy, and you keep expecting to see Terry Gilliam prancing behind them banging coconut shells together.  The prologue is like those in many fantasy novels, easily skipped to get to the good stuff.  It’s a tedious way to set up the eternal contest between the supernatural “Others”, Light and Dark, each monitoring the opposing side to look for violators of their ages-old truce (the monitors are the Night Watch and Day Watch).

The film follows precog Anton (Konstantin Khabenskiy), a member of the Night Watch tasked with policing the Dark Others.  He’s a refreshingly shabby protagonist, a staggering, vagabond vampire hunter.  His Night Watch teammates include a few shapeshifters who never actually shape-shift, and Olga the were-owl (Galina Tyunina), who has a well-filmed, messy transformation scene and then seems to have nothing to do for the rest of the film.  The Night Watch members echo the Ghostbusters, with their jumpsuits and their bright yellow truck with flaming tailpipes, whizzing through the city streets to supernatural incidents.

There is a plot, but it is told incoherently, as if the director cut out half the footage at random.  The end result is loud, garish, confused, and somewhat annoying, with strange camera angles, quick jump cuts, and hardly a whisker of character development.  There’s something about the “Vortex of Damnation” and a cursed virgin, who appears to herald the final battle between Light and Dark, and a great Other who will choose sides and determine the outcome. 

The film and its sequel Day watch (2006) were based on a series of novels by Sergey Lukyanenko.  Perhaps if you’ve read the novels you can fill in the blanks in the movie version of Night Watch, but otherwise the events are made barely comprehensible by the spastic, jumpy direction.  The special effects, impressive for the overall budget of about 4.2 million, and sometimes inventive (wheeling clouds of ravens and a handy spine-sword), are the only real reason to see Night Watch


  1. I see that you managed to completely ruin this film for yourself. :( Possibly if you'd watched it back to back with the second part of the trilogy (not that there will ever be a third after the fiasco of Fox's marketing), you would have got more out of it. You don't need to read the books to fill in any details either but it's nice to read them after as they provide an entirely different universe to that of the films.

  2. If by ruining the film for myself, you mean that it wasn't to my taste, you're spot on. I thought it was a mess. I would like to read the books, though, especially if they are more coherent.