Friday, November 18, 2011

Review - Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

One of the most unexpected hits on the DS, the Professor Layton series, developed by Level-5, managed to bring text and puzzle based adventure games to the mainstream, US audience and quickly became one of the DS’ biggest franchises. So naturally, it makes sense that a movie would eventually be made based on the series. Each game has such a heavy emphasis on story, that it’s the perfect candidate for a movie adaptation.

So in 2009, an animated feature film version was released in Japan, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva. Instead of taking one of the stories from the games and making it a feature film, they decided to go in a completely different direction and make a brand new mystery for the Professor to solve. The movie finally made it to American shores thanks to Viz media and it’s a good thing it did because it is a pretty fun film.

The story starts with Professor Layton (Christopher Robin Miller) archeologist, puzzle solver and true gentleman extraordinaire and his trusted apprentice number 1, Luke (Maria Darling), solving a puzzle and taking down the nefarious villain, Don Paolo. It sets the scene for what Layton is all about. Flash forward two years, where Luke and Layton receive a letter from an old student of Layton’s, an opera singer named Janice (Emma Tate) who is having a problem with a little girl who seems to be possessed by the soul of an old friend of hers. So Layton and Luke go to investigate he problem by attending one of her shows but they’re soon thrown into a new mystery as a mysterious masked man interrupts the show and tells the audience that they must now participate in a series of games if they wish to receive the secret to eternal life. So Layton and Luke must not participate in the game and figure out what’s going on with the mysterious man and the little girl haunting Janice. 

Luke and Layton are just such likable characters, it's impossible not to enjoy scenes where they're together.

While this is all going on, Professor Layton’s assistant, Emmy (Emma Tate), is attempting to solve her own mystery, involving a little girl who has gone missing and a mysterious, lost kingdom known as Ambrosia, which is said to be the kingdom of eternal life. Needless to say, Emmy’s quest ends up tying into Layton’s and they end up together by the end of the film.

The movie is filled with plenty of plot twists, puzzles (which are numbered just like in the games so you can play along) and even a few fight scenes that are sure to keep even the most jaded of Layton fans interested the entire time. Not to mention, the film has one of the most bizarre, fun climaxes you simply have to see to believe.

All the funniest scenes come from this guy right here.
The animation in the film is pretty top notch, with the art style being spot on with the games, which is rightfully so as it was worked on by the same team responsible for the game’s cutscenes. The characters all have such goofy, exaggerated features that it feels very much like an old timey cartoon and it’s a pure joy to look at. The best character in the film, Inspector Grosky, happens to be the best example of this with his puffed out chest and ridiculous chest hair. He makes Professor Layton with his big head and beady little eyes seem straight up normal. There’s also a scene where two characters get into a sword fight of sorts that is so fun to look at it, you’ll wish it was longer than the 30 seconds it lasts. Needless to say, the animation is great.

The film also features several moments of CGI but none of them ever look as good as the traditional anime scenes. Some scenes just flat out don’t look very good at all, such as a scene where we’re shown Emmy’s car driving through town. The car is CG and the backgrounds are traditional, so the car doesn’t blend in as well as it should. But occasionally the CG can look quite nice. There’s a scene where a giant boat sets out to see and it’s all done in CG and really looks great, especially compared to the car scene just moments before.

The CGI really does bring down an otherwise beautiful film.

The voice acting is also pretty good though some American fans will be disappointed that many of the characters from the games are voiced by their European counterparts (Maria Darling as Luke) or completely new people all together (Emma Tate as Emmy). Though they all manage to do justice to the characters and shouldn’t throw anybody off too much.

The music is perhaps the best thing about the film. The score for this movie is just so good. There are times when the music is simple and elegant, much like the art style and the characters themselves, but when things get heavy and important, the music becomes big and vibrant and really makes you feel like there’s a lot at stake. The games are known for having some pretty great musical cues as well so it’s great that that has carried over into the film.

Overall, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is a fun film that fans will love and people who might not be into the games can enjoy as well. It’s not going to change the way you look at animation (anime or otherwise), and it’s not the deepest mystery movie you’ll ever see, but it certainly is fun while it lasts and it will keep you guessing the whole time. Plus, it’s certainly the best movie based on a game you’ll likely ever see, so it has that going for it.

                                                       Matt thought this film was...

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