Rue the Day
Look, I suffered through Night Watch (Nochnoi dozor), and I thought that was enough. I knew there was a sequel — maybe two — on its way, and I figured I’d just avoid them.
But I couldn’t help it. Like a geek to cool shit, I was drawn back. Because, you know, Night Watch was extremely cool to look at, even if none of it made any sense, and I thought, I dunno, maybe writer-director Timur Bekmambetov had gotten his act together and learned how to tell a story in the meantime.
Nah. (Turns out the two films were shot simultaneously, so there was no learning curve.) At an hour and 10 minutes into Day Watch (Dnevnoy dozor), I was itching with boredom — all the cool shit on the screen notwithstanding — and I was ready for it to be over. Unfortunately, with the film’s excruciating running time of two hours and 20 minutes, my ordeal had reached only the halfway point.
Kazakh Bekmambetov — a former slinger of TV ads for such global brands as Coke, Microsoft, and Ford — is to be commended for thoroughly revitalizing Russian cinema in the post-Soviet era. These two Hollywood-style, Russian-philosophizing vampire flicks have been smashes over there, bigger than The Lord of the Rings and everything. But Bekmambetov is, alas, a former slinger of TV ads, and his movies look like it, as much as they look like the Hollywood films he and his fellow young countrymen love as much as we do. Watching a flock of dark birds transmorph into ancient black-clad warriors is a totally awesome advertisement for Dark Bird Warrior cola… but it’s got pretty much nothing to do with anything. Nor does 99 percent of all the other spectacular-looking stuff up on the screen here. And then there are the cultural issues…
It’s two undead factions of blood-drinking undead locked in eternal standoff in modern Moscow: one is Light, one is Dark, and the major difference between them (the good guys don’t suck human blood) has all but been forgotten, kinda like a Hatfields-and-McCoy thing. The other guys are just the enemy, okay? And they mostly leave one another alone, except that now, each side has thrown up a Great Other — think undead Jedi Masters, but untrained — and if these two happen to meet, war between Light and Dark are inevitable. No one seems to know why: it just is, okay?
We met Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), a servant of the Light, in Night Watch, and now he’s smack in the middle of this imminent war: his teenage son, Yegor (Dima Martynov), is the Dark Great Other, and whaddaya know, his new girlfriend and trainee on the Night Watch, Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), is the Light Great Other. (The Watches each keep an eye on the other side, make sure no one breaks the truce between them.) Nobody, Anton in particular, seems to care overly much about keeping these two apart, which sort of belies the ongoing concern about all-out undead war, but, you know: whatever. There’s hard rock music on the soundtrack and the most awesomest subtitles evah as Svetlana chases Yegor through Second Level Gloom and Anton hunts down the Chalk of Fate, an ancient artifact that will help bring on the end of the world, or stop it, or something. Did I mention the hard rock? It rocks.
Oh, and a devil chick with horns gelled into her hair drives a sportscar across the side of a building. It’s, like, amazing.
Second Level Gloom? Chalk of Fate? Maybe it’s a translation thing. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Whatever the thing is, it ain’t my thing. And I love this stuff. I played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid. I’ve memorized Tolkien. Could be I’m just not Russian enough. Did I mention that Moscow gets utterly devastated by supernatural flying destruct-o ball bearings? It’s neat, in that gleeful Hollywood way when it comes to destroying world cities for fun.
Though Bekmambetov is working from a novel by Sergei Lukyanenko — I will assume the novel works as a cohesive whole — there are no unified underpinnings to what’s going on here. It’s all just random stuff pulled together out of a global cultural mishmash of pre-Renaissance mythology and post-Matrix style, with no appreciation for how the two can work together. The pieces can be extremely elegant, but they don’t fit together to make anything more than pretty parts.
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