The film Night Patrol has been the biggest sensation in Russia's cultural life in recent years. It has taken $8.5 million in 11 days, leaving behind all American blockbusters of this summer, even Troy and Spider-Man 2 at the box office. The Russian blockbuster could even outdo The Lord of the Rings, the biggest grossing movie of late, which has earned $9.05 million.
Night Patrol's budget was only $5 million. By Hollywood standards, this is a tiny sum for a picture seeking to achieve mass success. Considering that Russia is even well behind Europe in terms of the number of cinemas, the financial success of Timur Bekmambetov's film is a genuine source of inspiration for Russian filmmakers. No production in post-Soviet Russia has enjoyed comparable revenues, while many of them did not even manage to recoup themselves.
Is Night Patrol only a commercial success or does it also have some artistic merit as well?
The plot is rather primitive. It is a fantasy thriller about a magician who works as a kind of policeman rescuing lost souls from evil powers. The powers of light work in Moscow under a cover of the firm named Gorsvet, or City Light, that is run by a good-natured archangel with the face of a Soviet-era Communist Party activist. The magician trying to protect a boy from vampires finds out that the boy is his son. Alas, evil powers turn out to be more successful in general.
However, the plot is not really important. This is a touching and masterfully shot fable. It captures the audience's attention as the director's demonic energy can be felt throughout the film. Timur Bekmambetov has had a rather remarkable career. He entered the limelight in the 1990s when he made a series of fantastic historical commercials for Imperial Bank. They are still fresh in people's minds, although the bank has long since closed its doors. That was a new era in art.
Besides, viewers see Moscow inthe film, although it is set in the 1990s, rather than the United States or Middle-earth, which was even more important for the film's success. The war between vampires and magicians takes place in the familiar settings of the Moscow underground, suburbs, their dirty flats and entrances to apartment blocks, and drunken vagrants. The diversity of everyday life somehow makes the film a psychologically convincing fairytale.
The unprecedented advertising campaign conducted on Channel One, which was one of the film's producers, was part of the artistic process or at least contributed considerably to the film's success. And finally the producers launched a merciless war on the pirates. Channel One's general producer, Konstantin Ernst, secured law enforcers' assistance in advance. He is also believed to have made a secret deal with illegal video producers promising them the picture on advantageous conditions if they waited for a while in return.
The well-oiled illegal industry has spared the film. Audiences have poured to cinemas, as the film's counterfeit copies cannot be found in Moscow's thousands of street booths. This myth is also part of the advertising campaign and the film's special image. It was an interesting undertaking. Will the anti-piracy measures evolve into a tradition, a modern approach to the film industry?
The picture is big-selling news. However, can it be qualified as a major event in cinematography? Probably not. The plot, the screen version of Sergei Lukyanenko's eponymous novel, is not really important. It is an imitation of Bram Stoker's books or Tolkien's epic trilogy. The novel has nothing in common with Russian science fiction with all its diversity and power. However, the hero's psychological reversal of fortune resembles a Dostoevsky character, which is the film producers' idea. However, Ernst and Bekmambetov's production is even less distinctive. It is a mixture of David Lynch's mysticism and Quentin Tarantino's dark humour.
In the context of the European cinematographic tradition, in which Russia plays a role, the successful implementation of the American concept of mass culture is yet another surrender to Hollywood's advance.
Night Patrol has shown that Russia can make films no inferior to American movies and less expensive at that. However, the question is whether Russian art needs such imitations.
Amelie, a film by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, which stars Audrey Tautou and is a touching story about a girl who wanted to make everybody happy, attracted huge audiences in France, which is also flooded by Hollywood productions, although the picture does not have any special effects whatsoever. The film is a rare combination of artistic and financial success, which is a real success.
However, Ernst, a promoter of Night Patrol, said in an interview with the Itogi magazine: "We are interested in projects that attract large audiences. Teenagers will not watch art house movies. They can only perceive proper behavioural models furnished with special effects."
Ernst's idea to copy Hollywood productions has been financially successful. However, copying Hollywood is not a proper way for the Russian and European film industries to develop in the long term.
Anatoly Korolyov, RIA Novosti