Saturday, October 30, 2021

NIGHT WATCH (aka Nochnoy dozor) (2004) Movie Review

Scare-A-Thon Totals to Date:

Total Movies Watched: 30
Total First Time Views: 19
Amount raised for ALBANY PARK THEATER PROJECT: $2,500.50

Night Watch (aka Nochnoy dozor) (2004) d. Timur Bekmambetov (Russia) (116 min) (3rd viewing)

An epic blend of horror, action, science-fiction, and fantasy, all set in the humdrum workaday world of modern-day Moscow, where yellow power truck whiz back and forth carrying all manner of supernatural powers wrestling with unimaginable forces. We are dealing with no less than the Forces of Light and Darkness, with two epic armies filling the ranks on either side. An uneasy truce formed hundreds of years ago, the Night Watch governs the vampire-like creatures that make up the dark side, while the Day Watch keeps the various shapeshifting wizards in check. But now, the prophecy of a Great One has come to pass, He whose path (and to which side His alliance is cast) will decide the fate of the universe.

When it was released in Russia in 2004, Nochnoy dozor shattered all existing box office records, with crowds teeming to witness a hometown blockbuster that could stand toe to toe with Hollywood’s tentpole offerings. Based on the first story in Sergei Lukyanenko’s bestselling series, a modern-era Lord of the Rings, the film very much operates as an opening salvo, a world-building chapter with a dozen main characters and a quartet (at least) of interwoven narratives.

Bekmambetov’s flashy, CGI-laden and camera-whirling approach is offset by the grounded performances from his universally excellent ensemble of players. Our main protagonist, Anton (Konstantin Khabenskiy) is a relatively recent recruit to the Night Watch, introduced sending a curse upon his former love, an unfortunate event that sets the wheels of Fate in motion.

Geser (Vladimir Menshov) is his gruff, no-nonsense boss, his thick neck and bald pate exuding authority and coiled aggression, and longtime rival Zavulon (Viktor Verzhbitskiy, bearing a strong resemblance to Saw franchise star Tobin Bell) slyly lingering in the corners of the room and the plot (until he comes center stage in the grand, open-ended finale, spine-sword at the ready).

To be fair, not all of what gets splashed across the scene makes sense; viewers would be advised to keep a notebook handy to track the little details and relationships that make up the dense plot, and Bekmambetov isn’t as concerned with linear storytelling as one might wish. How a damaged airliner is suddenly flying perilously close to rooftops one minute, then safely airborne again goes unexplained, as does a nuclear power plant exploding, plunging the city into darkness, only to have the lights flicker back on once a mythical curse has been lifted. (Um, did it un-explode?) In cases like these, it’s probably best to keep your “Oh, those wacky Russians” card handy and play it as needed.

The sequel, 2006’s Day Watch, also directed by Bekmembetov, combined the second and third parts of Lukyanenko’s first novel into a cramped but entertaining closing entry, before the director was lured away by Hollywood’s siren song. (Wanted, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and the ho-hum 2016 Ben Hur redux were the results. Yeah, I know.)


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