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Thursday, September 16, 2004

New Russian blockbuster with an abortion regrets subplot


A reader, The Suburban Banshee, sends me the following email about a very successful Russian film that was released there over the summer:

This July in Russia, the movie Nochnoi Dozor (Night Watch) came out. In Russia, it made more money than Return of the King or Spiderman 2 did there. The novel by Sergei Lukyanenko on which it is based (same title) won the Strannik award for best Russian speculative fiction novel in 1999. So naturally I wanted to see the movie, and I finally gave up and ordered a DVD. (Russian moviemakers sell DVDs early and often, even outside Russia, as they like to make money. Would that US movie studios were so forward-thinking....)

The movie and novel are set in Moscow, in a slightly alternate version of our world, where the battle between Light and Dark (good and evil magical people) is supervised by treaty, bureaucracy, and two separate police forces.

Anyway...here come the spoilers....

The movie's prologue shows a younger version of the protagonist going to the apartment of an evil sorceress (koldun'ya) to win his wife back. The witch tells him that she's carrying the other man's baby and advises a magical abortion in conjunction with the love potion. He agrees, to horrifying effect. (The woman's long distance suffering is shown.) As it turns out, the abortion is interrupted -- but years later, when he has made atonement and is full of regret about what he tried to do, his son finds out about it and is not particularly happy. Which has equally horrifying consequences...or will, as Nochnoi Dozor is the first in a trilogy. (Day Watch and Twilight Watch are the other novels and are soon to be movies.)

Given Russia's huge number of abortions for most of the last century, I think this is an interesting subplot. To say the least.

Now, Fox Searchlight bought the rights to make an American version, and hired the director and screenplay writers to make it (Screenplay was by the director and Mr. Lukyanenko), though they'll also have an American screenplay writer or writers. I think it will be very interesting to see if the abortion subplot survives development.

Here's a review of the movie from an American expat. (Thanks also go to Suburban Banshee for the links that appear below):

The ever-ingenious Russians have found a way to make a blockbuster F/X flick on a strict Putin-era budget...and the thing is, IT WORKS!

I was gripping the edge of my seat, wondering what surprises might hit me next as I sat through Nochnoi Dozor. Bats! Vampires! Armies! The whole digital anime display done a million times better than the multi-million Hollywood best! In part this is thanks to Russian ingenuity, as I said. But now we can add to that the intangibilities of Russian cinema -- namely, the Russian soul. And oh boy does Nochnoi Dozor have a heapin' helpin' of the enigmatic Russian soul! This ain't no rip-off, folks. Nuh-uh. The ripping is going to go off the other way around, because Hollywood is salivating over the originality and depth of Nochnoi Dozor as compared to its own unsatisfying blockbuster action movies.

And more here.

Some stills from the film are here (the second picture from the bottom shows Anton at the witch's apartment) and here, where the second picture from the top shows the witch doing the abortion. (Spell gestures, not a graphic abortion.)

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