Saturday, April 15, 2006

Gloom and doom

From the first scene in a witch's seedy Moscow flat, the Russian fantasy noir Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch) electrified me in the same way The Matrix did, rendering the mundane world a very strange new place where I could not imagine what would happen next, and couldn't wait to see it. In director Timur Bekmambetov's version, the Matrix is the Gloom, a magic-charged alternate universe superimposed on the ramshackle, decaying apartment blocks of post-Soviet Moscow and the cavernous underworld of the subway (although the St Petersburg subway was the location). Here the Others of the Light (the Night Watch) and the Dark (the Day Watch) monitor each other to maintain a balance of good and evil in the world.

The movie was shot on a budget of around $4 million and looks like $80 million. State-of-the-art CGI is deployed with bravura style around a cast of scruffy, knocked-about Others headed by the terminally resigned Konstantin Khabensky as Anton Gorodetsky, an antihero for our times. His ignoble purpose, which upsets the balance and unreels the entire scope of the action, is unveiled in that first scene, where he is enlisting the witch -- a supernatural Fifties backstreet knitting-needle abortionist -- to get his girlfriend back. The snag is she is pregnant, the witch tells him, but she can fix that (natch). As she goes into her spiel, a couple of Others, in dirty overcoats, materialise to prevent her clapping her hands to abort the baby -- while Anton stumbles into the Gloom and realises what he is. The child is the random factor that is to upset the balance. Yes, it's a pretty familiar plot, but it scarcely matters. I feasted on this movie. In the pervading state of decay and despair, you can almost smell the stale sweat. Even the vampires are crackhead squatters in an abandoned warehouse. The occasional glittering eruptions of mafia Moskva are pure adland scifi in this landscape.

It's a dazzling kaleidoscope of action -- brilliantly edited and moving at breakneck speed -- and the director never puts a foot wrong until the climax, where the need to leave a loose end to pull on for the second film (it's a trilogy) results in a bit of a fizzle.

The visual detail is fascinating and every second of it carries plot and action, whether in the images from a video game or a flicker cartoon (the kind where you flick pages to make the figures move).

The way to see this is in Russian with the subtitles. The ones on the rental DVD were bog-standard, but I understand the original movie version subtitles are highly creative in themselves.

I'm holding thumbs part 2 doesn't fall off a cliff like the Matrix sequel.

2 Comments:

Blogger patroclus said...

Blimey, that sounds GREAT. Wonder if they have it in Hammersmith Blockbuster.

8:53 AM  
Blogger First Nations said...

dang.
i WILL be seeing this, darling; thanks!!!!

7:16 PM  

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