Sunday, September 9, 2012

Night Watch by Timur Bekmambetov

I am back after months of laziness.

So, the first film I'll be reviewing is a Russian Sci Fi movie that deals with stuff highly popular in Hollywood now days. Yes, I'm talking about human like creatures with superhuman abilities.
The whole vampire thing originated in my homecountry, which is why I've always found it to be an interesting topic. However, the way Hollywood (and TV) presented the whole story was always kinda lame and only somewhat related to the original story. No, I am not from Romania and no, the vampire story does not originally come from Romania. Vlad Cepesh, the count in medieval Romanian land, was a cruel ruler, dealing with his opponent in an inhumane way. His ways with prisoners and other enemies earned him a nickname "The Impaler". How does that make him any different than all other European rulers in the dark middle ages? It does not in any way. I wouldn't go as far as say that all rulers were that cruel, but cruel times require cruel rulers. It's his relationship with Hungarian kingdom that made myths about him, rather than his cruelty (compared to other European rulers). The word of his cruelty easily and rapidly got spread through the Catholic world resulting in myths, made up stories and what not.

What is a vampire? Vampire is a ghost-like creature, a spirit of a restless man seeking revenge. It does not feast on human blood. It comes to people while they sleep and strangle them. That is all. Manifestation of vampires that we know of today is a mixture of a restless dead and a werewolf. Their material being, the fangs, the hunger for blood... all werewolf stuff. I guess it was more interesting for people to picture them that way.

Night Watch.
The movie from the title is based on a sci fi book by a Russian writer Sergei Lukianenko. His views were influenced by the western view of the vampire myth, but he managed to give the background to the story which is based on eastern views. The result is impressive, compared to pretty much all Hollywood's attempts at telling vampire related stories.

Don't get me wrong, this is not just a vampire related movie. It combines many myths into an interesting story about the endless battle between good and evil, darkness and the light. I strongly suggest reading the books as well as seeing the movie.

This film simply offers a different approach to the story. Dark and light creatures are real and they live among other human beings under a set of rules. Those rules were brought to them when the light and the dark realized that war will only wipe them both out. So, according to that deal, Night and Day watch were created. Night Watch (the light) patrols through the night finding dark creatures breaking the law and Day Watch takes care of light's illegal activities.

The story follows Anton, a regular every day Russian, without a clue that he belongs to the superhuman world or any knowledge of its existence. In time he obviously finds out about his "gift" and gets a job in Night Watch. The storytelling isn't typical, which is why this film is poorly rated on IMDB and other film websites. It contains elements of Slavic folklore that people from the west can't possibly fully understand. A way of dealing with things, decisions made, things shown... are strongly influenced by eastern views.

Timur's filmmaking is strongly influenced by western sci fi directors, but, luckily, it had almost no influence on the story itself, leaving it as it is in the books. He uses a lot of special effects (masterfully made by a Russian team of special effects experts), but not too much of it. Sure, some scenes should have been excluded, being that they have little to do with the story, but the usage of special effects in storytelling is just right. The same can be said for editing and directing; just what a movie like this needs.

The acting is pretty good. A crew, lead by Konstantin Khabenskiy, does a great job at what director intended. There simply aren't any bad actors involved in making of this movie, including the people passing by, with a couple of lines, like a cop, or a salesman. Everything appears to be in favor of this film's way of storytelling.

The Competition.
I've mentioned earlier that this movie is superior to its Hollywood competition. However, I haven't mentioned any names. There are two movies that are thematically close to it. Underworld and Twilight. They both focus on combining myths. Underworld's backstory is really lame, making all of the endless sequels seem even worse. It's just sci fi action scenes and Kate Beckinsale in tights that sells them. Twilight is a teenage story about the fucked up values of the modern world. Popularity of it is just... sad.

Why should you go ahead and see this movie?
It's quite simple. The book it was based on is really good and the movie doesn't really change the story of it, it just adds action scenes and great acting to it. The story is in many ways different than the western pattern, making it additionally interesting for a viewer. You can, as well, read some things about Slavic folklore to actually be able to see all that this movie is about, because it doesn't include any kind of explanation to things already familiar to Slavic people. This film, however, offers something for everyone without being familiar with the stories background.