Monday, February 27, 2006

Lite Watch(ing)

In screenwriting, there are times when a writer (presumably young, but not exclusively) has created such a consistent fictive world that his/her eyes shine with excitement and wonder. The wonder contained in this sparkle is the possibility of this infinite world and its potential for screen adaptation. A screenplay is, however, finite, and this excited writer must also have the gumption and skill to hone this world down to a discernible 120 page script, 360 if we're talking a trilogy (which we've been talking a lot, lately). But that first screenplay must be so consistent, so taut, so refined that it leaves the viewer rapt for the sequel with a great understanding - not only of this fictive world - but of those narratives which are to come. This is something that the first Matrix film achieved, and quite well, I might add. Yet dramatic tension is something that the following two films lacked, and though this critic did not see them, it is my understanding that the movies became too comfortable with their fan following. The Lord Of The Rings movies worked in this regard. They were consistent worlds and well written scripts.

In adapting Sergei Lukyanenko's novel, Nochnoi Dozor(Night Watch), screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis and Timur Bekmambetov (who also took the director's seat) leave some very key elements on the wayside in their cinematic interpretation of the novel. One leaves Night Watch rather confused as to what just happened. The story is told in a rather straightforward fashion: After a truce between Darkness and Light, the former helms a Day Watch and the latter a Night Watch to ensure neither meddles with the human race. On a routine mission, Anton, one of the night watch (i.e. a good guy), discovers the son he had attempted to abort(supernaturally, of course) some 12 years ago. He also discovers a woman who harbors a vortex which spells Armageddon. He must save his son from a vampire with a taste for revenge and undo the curse that has opened the vortex within the unsuspecting woman - with Moscow plunged into a blackout, no less. But what of this alternate dimension called "The Gloom?" Regarding this, and various other plot flourishes, as a viewer, we are left completely in the dark.

The film was a tremendous success in Russia and has been picked up by Fox Searchlight Pictures with the intent of a grand theatrical distribution. In order to aide the videogaming culture's acceptance of the film, the studio experimented with new methods of subtitling. "Come to me" bleeds red and then evaporates on screen. During conversations, the respective dialogue appears beside its speaker. This approach, which could very easily have been obvious or overtly catering (though, at times, it is both of these) was a rather refreshing reconsideration of a pesky little necessity. The main fault of the film, again, lay in its inconsistencies. And I'm talking screenplay, here. For instance, Anton experiences premonitions. This is how he knows he is an "Other." We never experience any of these said premonitions until(perhaps) the last ten minutes of the film. To introduce these visions so late in the game disrupts the narrative flow of the film, leaving what is spoken somewhat divorced from what is shown. This is one example in many.

The film's visual style is rather nice, though not as original or as gleefully fun as something like last year's Transporter 2. Likewise, the action choreography leaves a little to be desired. When a character lifts a truck going full speed with one hand and flips it, on course in front of him, you want it to be just a little more thrilling than it is in actuality. The most effective element of the film is its recognition of a vast history of national folklore which defines Russian culture. As you sit there, watching powerplants explode because of some unattended sausages and Jeunet et Caro like chain of events sequences transpire under a murder of crows, you realize that something like The Matrix could not touch the weight of the film because of its lack of cultural lineage. As a young nation, America lacks the history of lore and storytelling that makes the best moments of Night Watch a most thrilling viewing. If you are in the mood for a decadent Sci - Fest that will keep you coming back for the next couple of years, by all means. If films like The Matrix or Underworld get you hot under the collar, than this one's for you. Everyone else, I think you can wait to on demand it.

And lastly, I would like to have a moment of silence for Don Knotts who died on the 24th of Lung Cancer.


Blogger the Ascetic Sensualist said...

This is a pretty unimportant comment, but I wanted to point out that Anton did have premonitions earlier than the first 10 minutes of the movie. One that I remember was during the sequence when he was following the boy on the subway, and he looked at the cursed woman, he saw the cloud of birds and the apartment building that would later become clear elements of the plot.

3:40 PM  
Blogger the Ascetic Sensualist said...

That should be "earlier than the LAST 10 minutes of the movie".

3:40 PM  

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