Nightwatch & Daywatch (2004-2006) dir. Timur Bekmambetov
Starring: Konstantin Khabensky, Mariya Poroshina, Vladimir Menshov, Zhanna Friske
** and ***1/2
If you saw the film “Wanted” this summer and couldn’t believe the over-the-top ridiculous carnage, perhaps you were wondering who was the brains behind that film. Genre-junkies know Timur Bekmambetov well by his a pair of audacious Russian fantasy action extravaganzas “Nightwatch” and “Daywatch”. A final film completing the trilogy will likely be made a released soon.
There was much as acclaim for the first film as there was confusion and bewilderment. While there is an achievement in creating a Hollywood-style fantasy blockbuster (Russia’s answer to “Lord of the Rings”) in Russia, Bekmambetov failed to condense the massive literary glut of the Russian novel into a coherent two-hours. It recalled David Lynch’s “Dune” – another visually stunning but incomprehensible sci-fi failure.
“Nightwatch” establishes the world of the “Light” and “Dark”, two opposing forces which, for centuries, have been in conflict. Apart from regular humans, there’s a race of people called “Others” with special abilities like telekinesis, or vampirism, or shape shifting etc. There’s been a truce since the middle ages thanks to mutual policing on each side by a group called “Nightwatch” and “Daywatch”. Our point of view into this world is Anton (Konstantin Khabensky), who we see in a flashback as he gets turned into a vampire (I think) and thus brought into the world of the “Others”.
In the present, while on the job Anton gets into a fight with a group of Dark Others and accidentally kills one of them – a major no-no and an act which threatens the peace. But Anton discovers that the Others were trying to kidnap a young boy who Anton learns is his son, Yeager. At the end of the first film Yeager is taken in by the Dark Army and thus becomes an enemy of Anton.
Which brings us to “Daywatch”, a completely different film in look and tone. With the rules of the world established Bekmambetov finally is allowed to let loose with the action extravaganza the series wants to be. “Daywatch” is bathed in a sumptuous blanket of saturated colours and a cornucopia of neon. It’s an eye-popping design, which feels like an audition tape for Jerry Bruckheimer.
The story starts a year after “Nightwatch” left off – for newbies, there’s no obligatory ‘recap’ lesson either. The structure follows the first, a flashback to ancient times tells of a magical piece of chalk with the ability to allow its user to travel back in time. From the audacious opening action scene, we know Bekmambetov has stepped up his ambition and directorial skills. Anton’s goal in this film is to find the magic chalk and use it to correct his mistakes and reunite with his long lost son.
Bekmambetov develops his supporting characters with greater care. There’s Svetlana (Mariya Poroshina), a stunningly gorgeous blonde who longs after Anton, but is put off by his coy, ‘hard to get’ attitude. She is also learning to use her powers, and can be absolutely badass when she wants to be. The femme fatal is the alluring Alisa (Zhanna Friske), a brunette, with a wolverine-like hairdo. The design of her outfit seems to be an influence on Angelina Jolie’s character in “Wanted.” Friske is just as badass as Jolie. Watch her character’s introduction – a fantastical set piece of action, which has her driving her car up the side of a building, crashing through a window, then through the hallways and crashing through the doors into the office of her boss.
Unlike “Wanted” we actually care for the supporting characters. Alisa longs to be with Kostya, an Other who is forbidden by his father from taking part in these dangerous activities. Unfortunately Alisa is married to the leader of the Dark Army, but with the magic chalk maybe she can change history and be with Kostya forever.
Bekmambetov’s attention to his characters means there’s greater stake in the action, which translates to deeper involvement and enjoyment of the film. “Daywatch” is one of the most ambitious action films ever made. He goes wildly over-the-top, but unlike “Wanted”, this extravaganza is in service an ever-involving story rooted in characters we love. Enjoy.
“Nightwatch” and “Daywatch” have been released on Blu-Ray by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.