Viz Media // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 27th, 2011
Inspired by the hit games on Nintendo DS!
Full disclosure: I was completely unfamiliar with the Professor Layton franchise before receiving this review assignment. I'm assured that it's a very entertaining series of puzzle games that boast involving stories and unique animation. Obviously, the majority of the people interested in the feature-length animated film Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva will be those who have played the games and will be able to appreciate the many cameos by assorted characters throughout the flick. Even so, the movie is being sold as a stand-alone animated feature that viewers of any sort should able to enjoy. Does it work well in that regard? Only partially.
Let's start with the positive: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva does a good job with its character set-up early on, giving us solid introductions to the key players and their world. The central character is the titular Professor, a tall, intelligent gentleman with a fetish for solving mysteries. His apprentice is the scrappy Luke Triton, a resourceful young boy who essentially serves as the gamer...er, audience surrogate. Together, these two take on a variety of different supernaturally themed cases. They're likable figures; Professor Layton is one of the most genteel video game heroes I've encountered (he makes the Prince of Persia seem positively brutish).
The problem is the story, which is an endlessly convoluted, twisty-turny affair. Layton has been invited to attend an opera starring one of his former students. The opera focuses on the mythical land of Ambrosia, which is purported to contain the secret of eternal life. A number of strange occurrences have been taking place in connection to the opera, including multiple kidnappings and the mysterious resurrection of a girl who was previously thought to be deceased. At the opera's conclusion, a mystery man informs the audience that they are participating in a competition to win the secret of eternal life, reveals that the opera house is actually a boat, and whisks the audience away on a peculiar adventure.
All of these odd happenings occur within the first few minutes, and the film continues to unleash new plot details at a similarly frantic place. After a while, all of the rug-yanking simply becomes exhausting. There's no time to really linger on the details of the mystery; the film is too busy upsetting the status quo and moving on to the next thing. Honestly, it feels like an entire game's worth of cut scenes mashed together into an awkwardly paced 98-minute film. This also contributes to the unfortunate "watching someone else play a video game" vibe which some films of this nature suffer from. However, it's worth bearing in mind that this is coming from someone otherwise completely unfamiliar with the franchise; those more intimately familiar with the world of Professor Layton may be considerably more enchanted.
The DVD transfer is handsome, spotlighting the bright and colorful animation (a charming East Meets West fusion of characters ranging from photorealistic to wildly cartoonish) and offering sharp detail. There are a few instances of banding, but it's never too distracting. Audio is also sturdy, with a lush, appealing score blending nicely with the dialogue. Interesting, the default language setting on the DVD is to run the dubbed English dialogue alongside the more accurate English subtitles. It's quite fascinating to observe the assorted ways in which the dialogue has been "Americanized" (and honestly, dumbed down in quite a few instances). No supplements are included on the disc.
Kids and other Layton enthusiasts may have a good time with this one, but the uninitiated will undoubtedly find Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva a frustrating viewing experience.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Viz Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated