DVD Review: PROFESSOR LAYTON AND THE ETERNAL DIVA

DVD Review: PROFESSOR LAYTON

‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

"A good puzzle, it's a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It's very clear, and the problem depends just on you."

-Erno Rubik

The elements that would make a Professor Layton game a strange choice to adapt into a feature film are the very reasons it ends up working as a twisty, fun, all-ages mystery adventure that puts the likes of Scooby-Doo to shame.

From an objective look at the source material, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva — out now on DVD in an English dub, following a 2009 Japanese theatrical release — shouldn’t even exist. The professor, associated characters and the mysteries they solve are at their heart just a perfunctory excuse to move the game along from puzzle to puzzle, like if a writer of Sudoku puzzles crammed a Japanese interpretation of classic British mystery stories in the margins of every page. Nevertheless, so much charm and effort was place in the establishment of Professor Layton and his world that it never seems illogical that one could enjoy it passively.

Yes, Professor Layton is an unlikely choice for a film adaptation, after all he is not a cyborg ninja or a muscle-bound warrior whose antics could translate to the big screen in flashy effects. Instead the top hat-wearing amateur detective’s "special move" is thinking really hard — which he’s given plenty of chance to do in his feature-length adventure that sees him and his self-appointed apprentice, Luke, invited to discover the secret to eternal life, the location of a lost civilization and the mystery around a strange little girl; all after being given opera ticket by one of Layton's former students.

After a slow start that unpacks a lot of backstory, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva sets up a "closed circle"-style situation, introducing a bunch of wildly proportioned characters each with their own motivations behind what turns out to be a dangerous game with very high stakes and several twisty layers that pay off for viewers in an almost over-the-top ending that’s nevertheless in tune with the established world of the games. While the film plays out like the non-interactive cut-scenes seen between game chapters, fans of Layton's core puzzle-solving element are treated to a handful of moments where the format of the game is referenced almost explicitly in the form of riddles and exercises in lateral thinking.

Although any fan of the game would like more puzzles to chew over, each one in the film is incorporated well as part of the story and eminently solvable by home viewers — though without the games' hint coin system, the pause button is the only aide. In place of the hundred or so missing puzzles is plenty more of Layton himself, and as the film takes place early in the franchise chronology, a young Luke. Both lead characters are voiced well by the game counterparts, and are written to fan expectations; Layton stays true to the common perception of him as a quiet man of thoughts and actions, while an exuberant Luke is filled with a childish energy that rarely grates. As is typical in mystery stories a lot of the secondary characters are one-dimensional archetypes, but the comic antics of a dogged Scotland Yard inspector mean most of the time spent away from the leads isn’t wasted.

Coming in at 90 minutes, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva has the rare distinction of being an animated film that is just a little too long. Coupled with the lengthy exposition sequence that starts the film after a short opening gambit, the film ends with a succession of bigger and bigger climaxes, followed by a denouement that will feel redundant to those viewers who have been paying attention. The animation itself is crisp and keeps with the game’s style, and the frequent CG intrusions into the hand-drawn look are at least not egregiously jarring. What does frustrate is the audio mix, as the background audio competes with (and frequently defeats) some very softly spoken dialogue — keep ears peeled.

The best thing that can be said about Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is that it exemplifies the idea that, just like the games that spawned it, "all-ages" entertainment doesn’t have to talk down to its audience, or pander with pop-culture references. Independently, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is an enjoyable, original film; as a game movie however, it's a rare example of how to do it right. 

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