Film: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva **
Release Date: 18th October 2010
Running time: 94 mins
Director: Masakazu Hashimoto
Starring: Yo Oizumi, Maki Horikita, Mamiko Noto, Shiro Saito, Nana Mizuki, Chris Miller, Maria Darling, Sarah Hadland, Wayne Forester, Stuart Organ, Robbie Stevens, Jonathan Keeble, Emma Tate, Claire Morgan & David Holt
Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is directed by Masakazu Hashimoto (Kemonozume), following on from the title character’s four hugely successful puzzle games for the Nintendo DS. Developed by Nintendo and Level-5, the movie is the first part of a planned trilogy, this one the prequel, set in England where the game has already shifted thousands of units - but will it please the fans?
Professor Layton receives a letter from an old student, the famous operatic singer Jenice Quatlane, including two tickets for her latest performance at the legendary Crown Petone Opera House.
Meanwhile, a spate of disappearances hits London, so Layton’s assistant Remi stays behind to investigate while he attends the opera with his apprentice Luke. The Professor soon realises that the pair of invites are actually a cry for help, the strange happenings at the theatre linked to the missing people back in the City.
Forced to play a deadly round of puzzles with the other guests, it isn’t long before he realises that it’s all part of the master plan: a chance to solve the biggest riddle Layton and his mysterious foe has ever faced – that of eternal life…
A word of caution: if you decide to watch this movie using its English dubbing then you should also be prepared to endure an oddly impressive Obi-Wan Kenobi impersonation by Professor Layton, not helped by his young apprentice who happens to be called Luke. It’s all rather surreal, but it also happens to be one of the few highlights by the time the final act arrives, mainly due to a plot that shifts its focus from puzzle-solving to adult-orientated sentimentality.
This is a shame because the opening hour will please most that watch it – an intriguing plot is filled with puzzles that both young and old can try to solve before the Professor and his slightly-annoying sidekick do. The results are interesting and would stand as a solid adaptation of the game.
The tame ending aside, considering the majority of video game-adaptations movie fans have had to witness since the nineties (Streetfighter, Mortal Kombat, Tomb Raider, Doom…), Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva somehow manages to replicate, for the most part, its unique selling point.
There are even a few lingering chills from the creepy Oompa Loompa wannabes onboard the Crown Petone, dispensing of the guests who fail to solve the puzzles presented to them, while a pleasing nod to the Phantom of the Opera, with its masked villain orchestrating the puzzles, also manages to satisfy.
The animation is executed well, especially during the finale’s stylized dogfight which seems to blow all of the budgetary constraints out of the sky. It’s just a shame Layton’s first journey doesn’t end here. It does lack a little slapstick, for both children and adults alike - sometimes being far more serious than it really has to be, losing its childish languor, as if wanting to preach about the loss of a child rather than the joys of childhood.
The soundtrack, and this is probably a good thing, contemplates the visuals by being scarcely noticeable until the final act: the haunting melodies work well here, even if the repetitive remix of the games familiar theme tune fails to ignite the set-piece in the latter stages, instead almost ruining it completely.
Other gripes include Professor Layton suddenly becoming a master swordsman (where is his lightsaber?) – his transformation into action-hero is a little perplexing, seeing as for the most-part he plods around the screen scratching his chin at every opportunity (more of a Yoda). Luke and the indestructible Inspector Chelmey are often quite infuriating to watch, especially the latter with his green body hair and ability to avoid injury, and the too-talky final scene would be more fitting to the ill-fated Titanic rather than the Crown Petone – overblown and far too wishy-washy.
The pacing is a little sluggish and the dialogue is often questionable; “Jenice, I’m sorry I borrowed your body for so long,” remarks one of the character’s with little reaction from Jenice, who doesn’t seem to be all that bothered by the art of bodysnatching. Layton is far too cool a customer – it wouldn’t hurt for him to have some kind of weakness, other than Sudoku.
On the plus side, there are few children’s films that give your grey cells a bit of a workout that Professor Layton offers, so those with the attention span of Dory from Finding Nemo are advised to look elsewhere. Whether the opening gambit works as well after repeat viewings is questionable, and probably one puzzle most viewers will fail to solve.
Fans of the games should lap it up, but Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva loses steam towards the end, hampered by a lack of puzzles that made the opening so enjoyable, and a dewy-eyed third act that begs for the credits.