REVIEW: Ночной дозор [Night Watch] [2004]

“You have to choose for yourself”

Here is the reason for which I got an All-Region DVD player. Ночной дозор [Night Watch] was released in Russia in 2004. It became so popular there that it was inevitable that the other two parts of the literary trilogy would be made into film. Fox saw this as a great opportunity to bring a Russian film to America that could have a huge following. They started advertising shortly after purchase, but the release stateside kept getting pushed back to the verge of maybe never happening. Finally the film was shown in a select number of cities, thankfully Buffalo was one of those, and we got to see what had taken so long. In Fox’s transition to make the movie subtitled in English, they actually animated each line of text to be integrated into the story. This was an amazing effect, and I will say I’m sorry to miss it on my Russian import copy. However, besides this improvement, Fox also made significant edits to the original version, even cutting out an entire character. I hate when companies do this and needed to see director Timur Bekmambetov’s vision. After seeing it, I am awestruck to see that this character really didn’t make the film any better or more comprehensible, I took from it exactly what I took from the US release. It angers me that Fox cut the scenes, but it angers me more when they cut scenes for no reason—to make the film shorter? Why bother? I understand if they cut it because of censorship, but that is totally not the case. All they did was make more work for themselves because, since this character does not die, he will be in the second and maybe third. Now they will have to either cut him out there too, where he might have a bigger role, or reedit completely. Maybe this conundrum is the reason why Fox has had to wait another year before releasing the sequel here as well. It’s a shame that they became involved, as the Russian DVD for Day Watch does not have English subtitles, knowing that an American release will be forthcoming. Looks like I will either have to wait for the theatrical release, or buy the import and read the translations on paper.

With all that background aside, Night Watch is an amazing feat of cinema. The acting is top-notch; the special effects are magnificent, especially under the somewhat small budget; and the set pieces elaborate and well shot. We are thrown into the midst of a war between the forces of Light and Dark. The two butted heads long ago, and seeing how equal they were and the path to destruction the future held, they made a truce to live in peace. The Night Watch is a group of Lights out surveying the Dark and the Day Watch the opposite. These forces of vampires have survived centuries and move through the gloom on our world so as not to be seen when not needed to be. A series of bureaucratic rules governs them and when broken, could spell the reformation of war. After the Light side allows a Dark to turn his girlfriend and then track a human boy for food, all hell breaks loose. The boy ends up being an Other, a human able to see through the gloom and choose a side to fight with. Our hero, another Other, Anton, kills the vampire and begins a series of events that will shape how the fight will proceed. Besides this story thread, however, is also the looming funnel of darkness forming over a woman’s apartment building. She has been cursed and the dark forces are threatening to cause a rift destroying everything in its path.

Many things I have read speak of how confusing the plot is in this film. I would beg to differ and respond that if you pay attention to every detail, it is all explained. Also, this is the first part of a trilogy, so more will be explained as the story goes on. Unfortunately the missteps of Fox are causing years to go between releases so we don’t get to experience what happens next until much later. The fact that our hero, Anton, played with nice naïveté and yet also moral conviction by Konstantin Khabensky, is new to the world like us, we get to have things explained during the course of the film. His character is still adjusting to his role as a Light Other and Night Watch is his initiation into fieldwork. The other cast of characters are unique and interesting on their own. Galina Tyunina is fascinating as Olga the sorceress, and it should be intriguing to find out what she did to be imprisoned as an owl for so many years. Also, our leaders on both sides have the air of authority about them like that of a police chief and crime boss. Boris/Geser, played by Vladimir Menshov, is the head of the Light and the originator of the truce. Zavulon, Viktor Verzhbitsky, is the Dark side’s general whose menacing looks hide behind them a plan to finally break free and shroud the world in darkness. The one to watch though is young Yegor, portrayed by Dmitry Martynov. His character has been written about in the prophecies as the Great One who will hold the world’s fate in his hands by which side he chooses.

Suffice it to say, I can’t wait to continue my journey through vampire-ridden Moscow. I would even like to read the trilogy of novels in which the films are based, but who knows how good the translations will be or if you can even find them in English. Hopefully the success of this film will cause the next two to have bigger budgets and therefore even better special effects, although the ones here are spectacular—except for the crows sometimes seeming a bit too cartoony. Bekmambetov has started it off great so far, lets hope he can finish it on a high point as well…with as little interference from Fox as possible.

Ночной дозор [Night Watch] 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½


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