But really it deserves its own genre: the special-effects expository movie. Night Watch, like a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, occurs in a world that is not quite our own. And like a lot of thrillers and horror films, it's a violent world.
It's somewhat hard to bring these things together, because a world that's not quite our own requires a lot of explanation. I would say about 60 percent of this film involves characters explaining the background of the world, and about 60 percent is special-effects-laden action sequences. Which works mathematically, because characters actually give exposition while hitting each other, running and exploding.
Here's the basic premise: Thousands of years ago, two armies of magical immortals got in a fight. In a plot point never before used in a fantasy epic, one of the armies is the army of light, and they're "good." The other army is the army of darkness, and they're "evil." However, we only know they're good and evil because the characters keep mentioning this. For all practical purposes, neither side is actually very good or very evil. They're both just sort of teenage goth-rock evil. Like, they act real cool and stuff, but you get the feeling that they'd probably cry if they went to a Dead Can Dance show and saw their girlfriends making out with biker dudes.
Anyway, in the middle of their great battle, the heads of the two armies realized that they were evenly matched, and if they continued fighting, they would Mutually Assure each other's Destruction. So they did the only thing superpowers can do in that situation: They switched from hot war to cold war.
Cut to present-day Moscow, and the two teams of "others" (that's what they call themselves) maintain a steady truce. The good soldiers of light patrol the night, and they're called "Night Watch," while the bad soldiers of darkness patrol the day, and they're called "Halliburton."
But wait! As in all movies featuring armies of light vs. armies of darkness, there is an ancient prophecy ... and it's on the verge of being fulfilled!
Actually, I could go on and on describing the plot for about two hours, because the entire film is just people describing the plot while they run through trippy special-effects sequences. Frequently, the dialogue has no relation whatsoever to the action and visuals. It's kind of like watching The Matrix with the sound off while 12 nerds explain the entire history of Middle Earth.
To Night Watch's credit, the special effects are entertaining and inventive. They lack the polish of American special effects, but they more than make up for it in originality and sheer creepiness.
Some of the best of these sequences take place in another realm called "the gloom" that looks like the place you go when you take 15 hits of acid and have sex with your mother's skeleton. Other segments are animated. There's some hand-drawn animation, some computer animation, some stop-motion animation and some lightly rotoscoped sequences as well. So just imagine every kind of cartoon character patiently explaining plot and backstory, and you'll have the essential framework of this film.
I think the point of Night Watch is to set up its two sequels, one of which is already completed. That's right: It's called Day Watch. And guess what the third part is called. Nope; it's called Night Watch 3. I don't name 'em; I just report 'em.
But since Night Watch is little more than the setup for the sequels, it doesn't contain much in the way of narrative satisfaction. I suppose it's mildly amusing to watch owls turning into people and rubber toys sprouting spider legs and immortal CEOs performing open-heart surgery, but all the cool effects and creative visuals fail to really keep up the interest when nothing gets resolved, and the entirety of the plot is advanced in monologue.
I think the best thing about this movie, though, is the subtitles. They're actually integrated into the look and feel of the film. I'm not sure why no one has done this before, but it seems a major step forward in cinema. Since the subtitles are appearing on screen, they really should be thought of as part of the imagery, but every other film I've ever seen with subtitles has just slapped them on the bottom in some standard font.
Night Watch's subtitles fade in, jump about and occasionally grow in size. They don't overdo it, and for the most part, the subtitles are inconspicuous, but where it's appropriate, they take on a life of their own.
So while I can't recommend this movie to everyone, I would say that if you're looking for some great subtitling, and you're wondering what would happen if a mall-rat goth kid who'd just read Lord of the Rings wrote a vampire movie that was directed by Jan Svankmajer's peyote-addicted nephew, you should definitely go see Night Watch.