An Infendo movie review: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva

A recent arrival for North American home video, Professor Layton’s movie debut is that rarest of creations: a genuinely good game-based movie that completely captures the charm and appeal of its source material. If you’ve ever played a Layton game and wondered how the story would hold up without the hands-on puzzle gameplay, the answer is: extremely well. These sharply-written characters, taken straight from the games with no alterations, can carry a feature film. Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva is a winner.

The plot, centered around an opera singer whose voice might unlock the secret of eternal life, fits right into the Layton universe and would have made a great entry in the game series. Fans will chuckle at the many references from the franchise: all the expected supporting cast make an appearance, Luke practices his finger-pointing pose, and the closing credits are laid out as if you were watching the two screens of a DS.

The film’s writers solved a hefty problem: how do you adapt a puzzle game into a movie narrative? The answer comes in knowing when enough is enough: The film starts off paying tribute to the gameplay as Layton, Luke and the supporting cast are forced to play a puzzle contest to save their own lives. The villain even announces and displays the first test as “PUZZLE 001.” The puzzle is a verbal riddle, which gives the viewer a chance to solve it before the answer is revealed. Thankfully, the filmmakers immediately break away from this potentially-repetitious format as the second puzzle takes the story off on a new, unexpected tangent and whisks the characters off into action-adventure territory where the (now less frequent) puzzles are smoothly integrated into the mystery.

Many surprises, twists, laughs and tragedies await, all feeling very true to the games’ tone. Also present are the trademark over-the-top action sequences and outrageous contraptions that require some suspension of disbelief regarding what is physically possible.

But it’s easy to suspend disbelief in this film, because’just as in the games’the characters are so delightful, well-written and well-acted (same English voice cast as the games) that it’s a pleasure to just sit back and enjoy the tale. Professor Herschel Layton remains one of the best, most likeable and classiest characters to ever emerge from the game industry. Luke is a funny and endearing sidekick who never crosses the line to obnoxiousness. Returning Emmy Altiva continues her role as an eager and competent assistant, and Grosky of Scotland Yard provides comic relief with his unique blend of superhuman stamina and bad timing (he also gets the funniest closing credits gag). Where the games present a world of wonderfully quirky characters to interrogate and chat with, the film fits this element into the dozen or so characters who are swept along in the sinister game alongside Layton and crew; every one of them is distinct and so well defined that you really will have no idea who will be eliminated from the story next.

The film looks terrific, keeping the style and tone of the game cinemas with the added benefit of smoother animation, higher budget, and spectacular effects. There are little moments’like the lights of the opera house flaring to life as the sun sets’that make this a truly beautiful film. CGI is employed often for cityscapes and machinery and, though it sometimes calls attention to itself, it’s never objectionably jarring or out of place.

The music’as always’plays a huge part in creating the atmosphere of Layton’s world. Death and mortality have always been major themes in the game stories, and that tradition continues here, with the score providing additional heart and soul to the story’s climax.

There’s certainly enough here to keep fans happy, but what if you’ve never played a Professor Layton game? I say, give it shot: you might find the pacing a bit leisurely at times, but stick with it and you just may end up falling in love with this world without investing 20+ hours in a game.

I highly recommend Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, which you can rent from Netflix, order through Amazon or buy (or rent) right now from iTunes (the HD version is currently rental only; the standard def is available for purchase and looks fantastic on the iPhone screen).

Be sure to watch all the way through the closing credits; as is now traditional, you’ll be treated to sharply composed snapshots which provide charming character moments, subplot wrap-ups and closing gags. Then, post-credits, you’ll get a brief, charming epilogue that closes the film on a perfect note.