Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Weeks Too Late: Night Watch

Night Watch. Directed by Timur Bekmambetov & written by Timur Bekmambetov & Laeta Kalogridis.

Preconceptions: Ahhh, finally back to something we're more comfortable with for the duo review. Night Watch is chalk full of vampires and absolutely devoid of court politics, I feel more at home already. It's also one of those sad instances were I've read the book long before I've seen the movie. I'll endeavor, as usual, not to make this a dull compare and contrast review. However, I am excited to see it as a flick because though I enjoyed the complex, ethics questioning novel I found the dialogue almost unbearable. Being completely unable to read Russian, I can't say whether this was bad translation or a weakness in Lukyanenko's writing. Either way, I expect it'll be cleaned up for the movie. I admit, I was only able to get a hold of the dubbed copy and this is one of those movies where, I've been told, getting the perfect version of it does make a difference (the Blade Runner Syndrome). They do some artsy and unique things with the subtitles in certain versions, but it's extraordinarily difficult to get your hands on. I'm not going to go bootleg diving for a review, since I think a movie should be able to stand on its official release merits.

General Review: Night Watch was a mixed bag of candy. There were the cherry gummy bear flavoured casting choices and visuals, but it there were also the foul licorice all-sorts of bad writing.

Some of the blame for the writing can be put squarely on the shoulders of Laeta Kalogridis who did the English translations. Despite my hopes, the dialogue was as stilted as it was in the book. The slang was outdated and the swearing used awkwardly and to poor effect. I'm sure that Timur Bekmambetov was adding black licorice to my experience as well, though, because there were scenes without any dialogue that were confusing and poorly executed. One of the climaxes of the movie (because interestingly, there are two) shows Sveltlana coming to the realisation that there is magic in the world and that she's a part of it. After being alternately frightened of and bulled by Anton she suddenly trusts him implicitly enough to change her entire world view. Her motivations and abrupt change in beliefs utterly snap the suspension bridge of my disbelief.

Visually, Night Watch seemed very experimental. Like all experiments, there were successes and failures. It had some of the better shape changing effects that I've seen and it used two completely different methods for each change. Given that I'm accustomed to the ugly, fake-y looking shape shifts American Werewolf in Paris and Buffy, having two distinctive, pleasing styles of shape shifting is a coup. The effect of the vortex of birds over Sveltana's house was impressive and realistic. Now that I think of it, so was the very Perseus vs Medusa fight, where a vampire disappeared and Anton could only see him in a shard of mirror. The hand held camera work (and of course there was some) was about half and half, well used in the claustrophobic subway and irritating in fight scenes (not to mention nausea inducing).

The casting choices in Night Watch were great. Konstantin Khabenskiy was excellent as Anton. His portrayal of the complex character was believable. And something unexpected that was kept from the book was that he had a genuinely dark past. Not the usual Hollywood situations where you could see doing the same under the circumstances. Nope, Anton begins as a self-absorbed, fetus strangling prick. He isn't the typical five o'clock shadow sporting anti-hero we're meant to love and implicitly trust. He's seeking redemption for his actually horrific acts (and due to a pathetic, but well executed, obedience to a strong authority figure). Unfortunately, whether it's due to bad voice acting or poor dubbing, we miss some important dialogue while he's hurt,
(choking on your own blood isn't an excuse for poor diction in movies, please recite "the rain in Spain" around blood and spit 50 times and then re-take that bit). Over all I liked the casting, particularly Galina Tyunina as Olga. She was otherworldly and cruelly practical in a way I never questioned. Plus, I like her nose for obvious reasons. Also, the pretty people managed to be attractive but not so movie star good looking that they didn't belong in this gritty setting (something that usually snaps my suspension bridge of disbelief).

Anton's major problem with the Night Watch (and the source of much of the conflict in the movie) is that they allow too many regular humans to be hurt or used as currency between the good and evil forces. He believes it's the Night Watch's job to protect them. The impact of this is severely limited when nearly every "ordinary" human we meet turns out to have some type of secret or unknown magic power. Almost no straight up humans are hurt in the fighting and political wheedling and this makes Anton's reasonable concerns seem groundless.

Where Night Watch was strong, it was both interesting and pretty to watch, but where it was weak it was painful. Its weakness was too prevalent for me to properly recommend it as a must see, but it was different enough that if you're looking to see something unusual that also manages to be entertaining, it's worth looking at. Along that vein, it was unique enough that I'll be checking out the sequel, Day Watch.

Aside: This week's review brought to you by my revulsion towards black licorice, the candy of the damned.


  1. I found Nightwatch to be barely watchable. Daywatch was MUCH better.

  2. I'd heard some REALLY mixed reviews about Night Watch. Heh, a surprisingly polarizing movie, but I saw some good in there and am hoping that that is brought out further in Day Watch.