I’d been eagerly awaiting the release of Night Watch since I missed it at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, and I’m sad to say that I’m a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, Night Watch is far, far better than the atrocious Underworld, a film with which it shares several themes, but on the whole Timus Bekmambetov’s first chapter of the trilogy fails to completely entertain.
All the elements are in place for a great fantasy/horror/action cycle, however there’s not enough of the traditional stuff (ie: story and character) to keep our attention for 98 minutes. Now I’m not asking for fully developed and complex characters in a film like this, but at least some unsubtle two-dimensional characteristics would be nice. The only thing separating the key players in Night Watch is whether they follow the Light or the Dark. There’s nothing else. Even the main protagonist Anton has nothing interesting going for him. I did enjoy that these were grungy, world-weary heroes, and not simply stylishly costumed X-Men, but the only trait assigned to these people is that while some want to prevent the apocalypse, others can’t wait for it to begin.
One of the positive aspects of Night Watch is the fact that it doesn’t go out of its way to explain the supernatural world – the members of The Watch go about their business, casting spells, transmogrifying and zipping between dimensions, and the audience is simply swept along. Some of the action pieces are great, if a little hard to follow. The filmmakers have done a lot with a limited budget, and there are some highly inventive supernatural moments.
Special mention should be made of the English subtitles, which interact with the film itself. In a brilliant move, they fade, flicker and sweep across the screen depending on the aural delivery. Not only is this a fascinating gimmick, it will hopefully also ensure that there are no dubs of the film in its worldwide release. Night Watch felt proudly Russian in this respect, and in fact the titles at the start are actually written in Russian before they morph into English.
It is curious to note that in some ways the narrative seemed inverted: most of the action happens in the first act, and it sort of calms down towards the end. The film reminded me a little of the novels of Clive Barker and Peter Straub, not just for their horror element, but the fact that they begin with a bang and then disappoint by winding down slowly by the end. It felt almost as if the story would be better suited to a television or mini-series. I was on several occasions reminded of Lars von Trier’s ‘The Kingdom’, what with the almost casual references to Armageddon (the event, not the sh*tbox film of the same name). Maybe I will appreciate this film more once the next two have been made (Day Watch (Dnevnoy dozor) due 2006, Night Watch 3 (Nochnoy dozor 3) due 2007), but overall Night Watch was a disappointment.Rating: