Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor) (2004)

night-watch-02And then when they said there’s no more original ideas, out comes “Nochnoy Dozor”. If you’re unfamiliar, “Nochnoy Dozor”–or “The Nightwatch”– it is a Russian fantasy epic, the first of a planned trilogy that just finished smashing box office records in Russia becoming the highest grossing film of all time there beating out “Spider-Man 2”.  Though it’s not as if Russia is a Mecca for light-hearted epics, “The Nightwatch” has made quite an impact there, and will soon be released and then remade here in the US. Before the Hollywood butcher shop decided to hack their way in to a crappy remake, I decided to grab a hold of the original film, and I wasn’t disappointed.

“Nochnoy Dozor” a soon to be trilogy of mass proportions is the classic tale of good and evil, with a modern twist that harkens to “Underworld” and “Lord of the Rings”. It’s a very dark, grim, and utterly beautiful fantasy tale that has the possibility to become bigger. Anton is a lovelorn man who goes to a witch to put a curse on his cheating wife’s new child and have it killed. The witch’s curse doesn’t get fulfilled as she’s intercepted by three mysterious people in jump suits who put a stop to her. Many years later, Anton is now a vampire and is working for the mysterious people as an agent who keeps an eye on demonic entities living as normal people in our world. The people of the light keep an eye on those of the dark, and vice versa. In the old world, there was an epic battle of good and evil, the armies of the dark and the light. These armies were so equally matched in power that they decided to call a draw and made a compromise to live among each other with a treaty that couldn’t be broken.

It was said that one day a “powerful other” would emerge that would be a powerful being and that “powerful other” would tip the scales for one side and win the battle. This “powerful other”, if manipulated could turn evil and defeat the light, or could turn good and defeat the dark ala “Star Wars”. The rest is the chase for the dark and the light to grab the other and keep him from being corrupted, but that won’t choose to be and easy task. Based on the novel of the same name, director Timur Bekmambetov brings this story to life with such charismatic elegance and often Clive Barker-esque imagery. “Nightwatch” is the fantasy lovers wet dream, so you can imagine my lust for it. There’s vampires, shape shifters, demonic entities, evil crows, live spiders, and everything else you can possibly imagine squeezed in to a two hour flick, and it’s amazing.

The film is filled to the hilt with utterly amazing imagery, including the opening shots which are incredible to watch. The opening scenes will be compared to the opening scenes to “Fellowship of the Rings”, but I have to say this opening scene was much better. The film is based on a surprisingly esoteric and incredibly elaborate story that deals with mythology and attempts to define what exactly evil is after all. It also helps we have some fucking amazing characters we can root for here including Anton who is a vampire agent, his partner Olga, a pretty woman who can morph in to an owl in one fantastic sequence, and the agents Tiger and Bear Cub, two bad-ass characters that can change in to their moniker’s forms at the drop of a hat. They’re hardly ever truly exposed in this film, but I imagine with the next two, we’ll get to see a lot more of them, if this movie doesn’t let me down, we’ll see more of them.

The mythology on display here is hardly ever incomplete and everything and everyone has a complete back story and sense of psychology to them that make them stand out. Anton is a tragic figure/anti-hero that struggles with his evil and goodness while attempting to keep this potential massive war from happening. The first film is basically a stand-alone yet it manages to become the set-up and build-up to the next two features which will extend to a wider spectrum and colossal war I salivate just thinking about. With often Dali-esque imagery of amazing lands and some brutally beautiful creature effects, I was hooked from the beginning right down to the surprising dark climax that will leave you on your seat angry that it just ends.

I’ll admit it does end on a very dark note and with a question mark giving the audience the signal that something bigger is emerging in this amazing universe. Though, there are much special effects, there is also an excellent story, beautiful scenery, compelling characters, beautiful acting, and action that will keep you wide-eyed. Every time I thought this would get derivative, I kept getting proven wrong. You never know where this is going to go, but you know this is going somewhere great, and I can’t wait to see how this finishes. “The Nightwatch” is ultimately elaborate to a fault. The film is so complicated even I had a hard time following it, but that’s one caveat to an exciting, fun, and hauntingly beautiful piece of fantasy filmmaking that will leave you declaring “More! More!” I’ll be anxiously awaiting the sequels!