The film is adapted from Night Watch (1998), a novel by popular Russian writer Sergei Lukyanenko. Sergei Lukyanenko has also written three sequels, Day Watch (2000), Twilight Watch (2003) and Final Watch (2006), along with a host of other books in the science-fiction and fantasy genres. The film version is handled by director Timur Bekmambetov who had previously made a couple of English-language films for Roger Cormans Concorde-New Horizons with the gladiator film The Arena (2001) and the war film Escape from Afghanistan (2002).
In watching Night Watch, you are struck by the extraordinary ambition of the exercise, both conceptually and technically. The film almost emerges as an attempt to conduct something on the order of The Matrix (1999) for the horror genre. Or perhaps as the type of epic that you sense Clive Barker was trying to make with Nightbreed (1990). The plot falls into the theme of the immortals/supernaturals conducting a secret war behind the curtain of human history that we have seen in films such as Highlander (1986), Blade (1998) and Underworld (2003). Although the plethora of ideas and conceptual dexterity to be found in Night Watch is a world beyond anything that most of these films try.
Certainly at times, Night Watch is almost a film with too many ideas for its own good vampires, shapechangers, witches, clairvoyance, curses that are creating a storm over the city, secret police forces, and of course a destined ultimate showdown between good and evil. Night Watch is a film where it is not always easy to understand what is going on, while the characters seemed cramped in trying to obtain any screen time in between the plot and action. However, Night Watch has an undeniably dazzling originality of ideas I particularly liked the idea of The Gloom, a dimension where The Others partially exist and appear from to battle and influence events, and where warriors use flashlights that illuminate the supernatural reality of the mundane world. Despite initial confusions, the story does pull together at the climax, which ties the beginning and everything that has happened together in some dazzling ways, not to mention arrives at a downbeat ending that holds a jolting sting.
Timur Bekmambetov directs with the restless fidgety excess energy of an MTV director. Bekmambetovs camera is constantly on the move, darting into closeups, slow-motion, visual cut-ups, snaking off to view incidental action (even off to follow the entirely unrelated fall of a bolt from the airplane wing down into an apartment at one point) and always trying to dazzle us with what his special effects department can do. While Bekmambetovs restlessness results in a film that is dense to the point of being claustrophobic, what you cannot deny is that he creates something that is afire with wild imagination. The opening few scenes where The Night Watch burst into the witchs apartment to stop her, transforming into animal forms to slam a frying pan between her hands before they come together to clap, while she calls a doll that comes to life with spider legs to protect her and all around the mundane world is stilled in motion and filled with buzzing flies, is so extraordinary it makes you sit up and pay attention in a big way. The battle with the vampire Andray, with Konstantin Khabensky trying to fight a person that exists on another mortal plane where he is only able to see his opponent in a mirror, comes with an amazing imagination.
Timur Bekmambetov constantly tosses in all manner of astonishing throwaway images we momentarily see a vampires point-of-view where a victims head becomes entirely a silhouette of red veins; the opposing general produces a sword from out of his spinal column; a race through the street is interrupted by a collision with another Other who causes the van to flip in mid-air and then continue on as though nothing happened. Particularly striking is the climactic battle, where Bekmambetov suddenly pulls back to show armies crowding across an apartment roof and then a phantom bridge stretching across the sky above the city. While the effects work is occasionally variable, what you cannot deny is that they are in the service of a film that is genuinely imaginatively fired-up.
One of the most visually exciting things about Night Watch, at least in the English language version released by Fox Searchlight Pictures, is the subtitles. Rather than the usual nondescript translations that appear at the bottom of the screen, these are fluid and all over the place appearing from behind objects or people as they move, the phrase Come to me dissolving out of wisps of blood as The Call goes out, the word No blasting all over the screen as the Night Watch burst into the apartment to stop the witch clapping her hands.
Timur Bekmambetov followed Night Watch up with the filming of the next book in Sergei Lukyanenkos series, Day Watch (2006). Bekmambetov has announced a third film in the series, tentatively titled Twilight Watch or Dusk Watch. Bekmambetov puts plans for this on hold to travel to the US to make the super-assassins action film Wanted (2008), Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012) and the remake of Ben Hur (2016), as well as producing a number of other projects including the animated 9 (2009), the NASA Moon landing/alien possession mockumentary Apollo 18 (2011), the alien invasion film The Darkest Hour (2011), The Snow Queen (2012), Unfriended/Cybernatural (2014) and Hardcore Henry (2015).
(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay at this sites Best of 2004 Awards).