Tue 20 Sep 2011
From the get-go, it is pretty clear that one of the main objectives of making the film was marketing the Professor Layton puzzle games. The DVD opens briskly with a trailer for Professor Layton and the Lost Future (you should skip it, if you haven’t finished the game yet!). But what about the movie itself? Is it more than just a marketing tool?
Can it stand on its own?
Before moving on to that, first a word or two about the Layton games. What I love about those is not necessarily the puzzles – they are an important ingredient, but any good puzzle book could provide similar entertainment. No, what makes Professor Layton and the world he inhabits special, is the whole atmosphere. A bit of steampunk here and there, some nostalgia sprinkled in, the whole Sherlock-Watson dynamic that Layton and his apprentice Luke have, and then of course the warm colours and ditto music to top it all off.
Fortunately, the movie manages to capture this atmosphere pretty nicely. The music is great, the voices for the main characters in the English dub are the same as in the games, and most of the art is spot on as well. I say most of it, because apparently in order to keep the film’s budget in check, its makers have made abundant use of computer-generated imagery. In some places it works, but mostly it is too dissimilar in style to the rest of the art, so it doesn’t gel well with the otherwise masterfully drawn graphics.
Another thing that slightly bothered me is that the Professor Layton in the movie seems to be a somehow different character than he is in the games. Yes, he’s still the Victorian gentleman in the distinctive top hat, but he seems somehow less of a man of science in the film, and more seriously, he’s actually a bit of an action hero, which is fine if you’re wearing a lycra suit and a cape, but it’s not something I would imagine the calm and composed Professor to be.
This highlights another problem with the film: it wants to be like a video game, but not always the right kind. There are moments where there is just too much action, like in the boss battle in the middle of the 30-minute climax/denouement (which is a bit on the long side for a film that only lasts about 90 minutes itself), which recalls action video games, but not the gentle pace of the Professor Layton games. I realize an audience has to be captured, but this is not the right way, especially when the story isn’t too strong, but more on that in a bit.
On the other hand, at times the film does get it exactly right. A few puzzles are incorporated into the movie – not a lot, and they’re not unnecessarily hard, so you don’t have to worry about missing part of the story while you’re cracking your brain over a riddle. Personally, I would have liked to have seen even more puzzles, because those were decidedly among the more enjoyable parts of the film.
If, however, you are going to watch this solely for the story, you will likely come out disappointed. It’s probably not reasonable to expect too much from it in the first place – if you invite Hercule Poirot to a party, someone will get killed, and likewise if you invite Professor Layton to your opera, people will mysteriously disappear, as they often do in the games as well. It’s all pretty basic. Still, there are just too many underdeveloped story lines and equally underexposed characters. The short length of the movie doesn’t help in this respect.
All in all, Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is a film with two faces. It mostly captures the atmosphere of the games very well, even incorporating the puzzle aspect without it feeling forced. The shallow story however does drag the film down rather a bit, as do the CGI effects that mostly feel out of place. You may want to check this one out if you’re a Professor Layton fan, but even then you’ll probably end up not watching it more than once. If however you decide to stick to the games, you’re not missing all that much.