Another World: Why the Film Adaptation of Night Watch Works
By all means, I should have been upset with the adaptation of Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch. I like it when films to follow their book source material; this one did not follow Lukyanenko’s novel of the same name. In fact, it combined the first part of his novel Night Watch with elements of his follow-up Day Watch, and even then, there were radical differences. However, I loved this film.
The first ten minutes alone of this film is enough to hook you. As we watch Darya attempt to kill an unborn Yegor, there’s a sense of real fear that she’s going to succeed. In the battle to subdue her, the camera work and special effects used enhance the scene without being the sole thing that drives it. Between Tiger Cub’s transformation and the slow motion attempted clap of Darya, you can’t take your eyes off of it. There’s tension and style, and we have Timur Bekmambetov to thank for that. He took a budget of approximately $4.2 million dollars and produced something this slick-looking. That’s fairly impressive. He uses the effects to enhance the story, not totally drive it. Michael Bay, take note.
|Khabensky is the man.|
So, let’s address the elephant in the room: the differences between the book and the film. In the book, Anton is not Yegor’s father, and Yegor is actually a very minor role for the first of three parts in the first book alone. Yegor isn’t the great other; in fact, he refuses to choose a side due to his distaste for the manipulations of both sides. Under normal circumstances, I’d be yelling “bastardized adaptation.” We need to bear in mind, though, that Lukyanenko collaborated with Bekmambetov to write the script. The author himself worked to make this come to the big screen. Here’s where we need to address a broader cinematic truth, one of which even I have difficulty with sometimes: not everything is adaptable and/or filmable. The Lord of the Rings, though good, is really fucking long. One book was over three hours, and that was cutting portions out. Done poorly, this can take your favorite novel and turn it into an endurance test. Sometimes, the material needs to get retooled to make it work for the length of time you have to tell your story.
So how was this handled so deftly? Lukyanenko builds characters in the film that follow the DNA of the story, but merge into a kind of alternate reality. In a way, he writes his own fan ficiton. What works is that he knows how to flesh these characters out onscreen. We like Yegor the scared child, and we accept that he’s angry with Anton. We like Olga and are curious about her backstory. We get vested in the suffering Sveta; we feel that the hand she’s been dealt in life is unfair. We want Zavulon to fall flat on his face. We care.
|The Russian version of Starsky and Hutch is so much cooler.|
The introduction makes us believe that Anton is the Great Other, and when it’s revealed that he’s not – that it’s actually Yegor, and that his mistake in 1992 has pretty much fucked humanity – there’s an element of surprise. Konstantin Khabensky is perfect as a man that has messed up and knows it. He gives us damaged and cool simultaneously. It works because it moves in a logical progression. It tries to tie up its loose ends. It gets us vested in these characters. It’s a compelling story. It ends on a down note as well, which makes me ;ike it all the more.
In the later books, Lukyanenko nods to the films when Yegor, well on the path to becoming an Inquisitor, bumps into Anton and tells him that he had a dream that he was his father. Anton replies that dreams are alternate realities. This alternate reality in film worked, at least for me.