MOSCOW Before the July 8 release of Russian fantasy-thriller blockbuster “Night Watch,” producer Konstantin Ernst hazarded a guess the film would become the breakthrough movie not only for his production outfit at Channel One — but for the Russian industry as a whole.
And he’s certainly been proved right — on a level that even he might not have expected.
After 12 days in release, “Night Watch,” directed by TV commercials helmer Timur Bekmambetov, has already grossed 263.2 million rubles ($9.075 million), easily beating “Spider-Man 2.” And it’s only slightly short of Russian totals for the last episode of the “Lord of the Rings” trio earlier this year.
With a combination of flashy special effects, well-known TV stars and a story based on a popular sci-fi trilogy, local auds are finding “Night Watch” — which pits forces of good and evil in a supernatural context within contempo Moscow — closer to a Hollywood blockbuster than a typical arty Russian film.
Receipts to date are more than three times higher than final results for any Russian film of the last 12 years. Admissions, at 2.3 million by July 19, are on a level which haven’t been seen in the territory since Soviet times, when local product had a virtual monopoly in theaters and only one TV channel competed for entertainment interest.
Distribution for “Night Watch” was on a huge — by local standards — 307 prints from international player Gemini Film, which handles mainly Fox pics in Russia.
“It looks like a combination of quality product, and a very cleverly run promotion campaign through Channel One,” says Alexander Semenov, publisher of local trade magazine Film Business Today. Pic’s producer Channel One ran a saturation marketing campaign with trailers on primetime TV as well as billboards and posters throughout Moscow.
According to Semenov, likely final gross for “Night Watch” should come in at around $12-13 million, despite producers’ decision to rush the DVD release in August to counter piracy. (It also had the advantage of using Channel One’s reps all round Russia to monitor and react to the appearance of illegal copies).
And that’s only the beginning. Originally slated as the first of two films based on fantasy bestsellers written by Sergei Lukyanenko, “Night Watch” has expanded into a projected trilogy.
After the December 2004 release of a second part, titled “Day Watch” — already virtually completed, according to Bekmambetov, except for a few special effects scenes — Channel One is working on a final third installment, “Dusk Watch.”
According to Semenov, likely theatrical B.O. results for the threesome will run to well north of $30 million. That’s excluding ancillary revenue, as well as TV series spin-offs and lucrative primetime broadcast of the films themselves on Channel One.
All of which makes the franchise a very attractive prospect for Channel One, which, according to Ernst, spent only $3.5 million on the originally planned two-parter, despite ambitious special effects which were produced locally.
Impact on industry development should confirm the move of Russian broadcasters to back local film product, and bring results into primetime TV slots — a tendency already started, both by Channel One and by youth-oriented web CTC.
Whether rival pubcaster Rossiya will change its tactics of supporting adaptations of local classics like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy remains to be seen.
“Night Watch” helmer Bekmambetov has said he will limit his involvement to completion of the three projected film versions.
Meanwhile, Channel One is already in pre-production on another Lukyanenko adaptation, scheduled to start shooting next year.