Saturday, 22 May 2010

Professor Layton And The Eternal Diva

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, the first feature to be based on Nintendo's multi-million selling puzzle games franchise, is a far cry from the likes of the recently-released Prince of Persia, Resident Evil and other such videogame-derived films. Whereas those products of high-budget Hollywood attempt to craft new fiction from the existing properties (often incurring the wrath of devotees in the process), Layton is closer in intention to the likes of the Pokemon series (whose producer Masakazu Kubo also worked here) or the recent Halo Legends; it's very much a case of fan-service, building on the worlds and the characters already established and, in the Eternal Diva's case, actually bridging a gap between games. It's an idealistic approach - Eternal Diva is lacking in dramatic bite, despite ensuring the key audience are left feeling satisfied.

Although European gamers only have the two Layton adventures so far - Curious Village and Pandora's Box - the Eternal Diva is actually part of a prequel trilogy that has already begun in Japan with the release of Specter's Flute last November (we get the final part of the, er, modern-day trilogy when Unwound Future arrives in the Autumn). The story here concerns the legend of the ancient Kingdom of Ambrosia - not the Devon custard, but a place where it is rumoured eternal life can be granted. One of Professor Layton's ex-students called Jenis, now an opera singer, is claiming that a friend of hers who died has now reappeared - in the body of a seven year-old girl no less - having been granted eternal life. Even more confusingly, Jenis is due to sing at an opera based on research into the land of Ambrosia, to which she invites both Layton and his wide-eyed assistant Luke. The dynamic duo are unaware, but the rest of the audience aren't there for the art but rather the prospect of living forever.

It's at this point that Eternal Diva gains some momentum. A succession of puzzles, with obtuse orders such as 'Find the oldest crown', slowly reduce the party of characters until only a handful remain (the losers of one early problem are dumped cruelly into a sea of sharks in a manner that wouldn't shame the Saw franchise). Although it's a device transparent in its intention - there are many wry references to "a puzzle game", while the concepts of puzzles, rewards or death will be familiar to anyone who's ever held a joypad - the repeated structure of problem, solution and dialogue-heavy exposition isn't rewarding enough when viewed passively. In carrying across the ethos of the games, writers Level-5 (also the series developers) have misjudged the demands of cinema. So the watching audience isn't given enough information about the larger world to try and solve the puzzles ourselves (not that this stopped us from having a think), while the on-screen action fails to truly engage despite reaching an admirable level of complexity by the end.

That said Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is, despite the above criticisms, a fun and relatively entertaining watch. The Professor's frequent leaps in logic are amusing, while the unobtrusive animation (with only a minimum of stylization to the characters), is effective. In many ways Eternal Diva is an admirable film, in that it doesn't cynically exploit the series in a bid to attract new players. Far better to create a perfectly watchable film that retains the essence of the games than one which discards integrity for the mass-market. The 5 million or so people who have bought Professor Layton titles can breathe a sigh of relief; for the hardcore within them this will be near essential.

- Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is out on DVD/Blu-ray in Autumn 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment