A Bad Imitation of Bad American Culture
Release Date: February 17, 2006
Audience: Older teenagers and adults
Runtime: 115 minutes
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Producer: Konstantin Ernst and Anatoly Maximov
Writer: Timur Bekmambetov
Address Comments To:Peter Rice, President
Joseph De Marco
Executive Vice President
Fox Searchlight Pictures
20th Century Fox Film Corp.
A Division of Fox, Inc.
10201 West Pico Blvd., Bldg. 38
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone: (310) 369-1833
Fax: (310) 369-3175
After a longstanding history of conflict between the Light and Dark supernatural Others competing for human souls, the two powers have adhered to a shaky compromise that allows humans to freely choose virtuous or evil paths without interference from the Others. The Light, known as the Night Watch, includes shape-shifters and clairvoyants, while the Dark, also called the Day Watch, consists of blood-hankering vampires. To hold the opposition accountable, each side monitors one another’s activities in both the normal and “semi dark” worlds.
It is within this context that the movie follows Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a Moscow native who solicits a creepy sorceress to abort his unfaithful girlfriend’s baby through a witchcraft spell. During her procedure, which ultimately fails, Anton learns of his own ability to see into the future, a self-discovery that indicates he is an Other. The story then moves 12 years into the future where Anton, still visibly shaken by the guilt he carries for his own attempted murder of his girlfriend’s unborn baby, is working for the Night Watch. Anton’s duties lead him to protect a small boy named Yegor (Dima Martynov), believed to be "The Great Other," a figure prophesied to tip the scales of balance in favor of either good or evil.
NIGHT WATCH spends a lot of time setting up the story for what is reportedly the first installment of a trilogy based on the novels of Sergei Lukyanenko. After being released in Russia, NIGHT WATCH became the country’s best box office performer of all time. Of course, the American audience will be unfamiliar with Lukyanenko’s books because they haven’t been translated into English. Despite hype from abroad, let’s just say that artistically speaking, NIGHT WATCH isn’t exactly THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV or SWAN LAKE. Despite the producers’ attempts to appeal to English-speaking audiences by including hip, colorful subtitles, this movie nevertheless seems to lose considerable steam in its translation.
A large part of the problem with NIGHT WATCH is that it’s a poor (though certainly costly) imitation of bad American art. Considering the movie’s box office performance in its homeland, it appears that Russians were excited about having produced their own stab at the UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION genre of kitsch. French rock bands may have found success domestically, but they’re never going to gain widespread success in America. After all, why would we buy inferior, snooty posturing when we have thousands of better options in English? The same predicament haunts Russia’s NIGHT WATCH.
Another sign of doom for NIGHT WATCH is that it comes across as immediately dated. While an eyeful visually, numerous cuts to video game scenes is a laughable editing choice (I often asked myself “is this a movie or am I watching my kid brother play with his XBox?”), and the grunge guitar laden soundtrack (again, cheap imitations of bad Western art) sounds like a collection of Creed throwaways.
In addition to its artistic problems, NIGHT WATCH’s narrative likewise fails in numerous ways. While supposedly a battle of good versus evil, its bleak atmospherics make it difficult to ascertain what is noble about the supposed good guys. It’s never clear why Anton is sided with the Light, especially considering his failed-but-attempted voodoo abortion, and, indeed, the Light is hard to distinguish from the Dark in many parts of the movie. Neither does the story appear to reach for a deeper truth about good or evil, instead choosing to focus on visual aspects, particularly blood and gore.
With foul language, graphic violence and black magic wizardry throughout, NIGHT WATCH isn’t a movie worth watching. Fittingly, this movie will not perform well in the U.S. box office.
NIGHT WATCH spends a lot of time setting up the story for what is reportedly the first installment of a trilogy based on the novels of a Russian writer, and the audience is scarcely rewarded for its patience in allowing the story to develop. A poor imitation of bad American art, the movie’s bleak atmosphere makes it difficult to ascertain the difference between its good and evil characters. With foul language, graphic violence and black magic wizardry throughout, NIGHT WATCH is abhorrent.