Thursday, September 4, 2014

Professor Layton And The Eternal Diva

I can sometimes have a hard time suspending my disbelief.  If a movie or television series seems to play by a certain set of rules for a good amount of its time and then introduces something completely random and new that violates what has come before, I find myself pulled out of the experience and spending more time trying to figure out what's going on than enjoying what's going on.  Other times, a film or television series can rely on a concept that just isn't very well thought out or presented, and it's hard to suspend that disbelief from the very beginning, leaving you in an experience that feels more ridiculous than amazed.

For example, Skyfall was a great film.  However, a whole lot of it sure seemed to be based on the fact that the bad guy's plan was going to go perfectly, including knowing just when James Bond would be in position to drop a subway train on him.

As another example, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest was  However, once you realize that Davey Jones hid his heart on land, but he's only allowed to walk on land once every decade, it suddenly makes you realize that what you're watching is a hastily cobbled together film with little to no interest in making any sense.  Then the whole thing falls apart.

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, on the other hand, involves exploding cruise ships, giant mechanical robots powered by a pipe organ that plays every single instrument together, mind controlled wolves and sharks, and the idea that with a magic formula, someone can live forever.

And I loved every minute of it.

Professor Layton, for those not in the know, is a series of video games for the Nintendo DS.  They're based primarily around a man (Professor Layton) and his apprentice being invited to either a strange location or exciting event and getting caught up in a gigantic mystery.  Such stories typically range from a box that kills anybody who looks into it, a giant monster destroying a city, lost civilizations, and even time travel.  However, the games also demand a certain acceptance of logic, since you spend most of the games solving puzzle after puzzle, thinking things through and making deductions based on how things work in the real world.

For instance, if you're trying to figure out which wire from a tangle will connect a DVD player to a television set, you can't just assume there's a miniature wormhole localized inside one wire that will jump the signal to another.  There isn't an invisible DVD player connected to one of the other wires that is secretly the DVD player you should be using all along.  It fits how we understand the universe to work and, for the most part, the games abide by those rules.  Even things that are believed to be impossible are usually satisfyingly explained as being a trick, a set-up, or an elaborate plot, not unlike your standard Scooby-Doo episode.

However, where Scooby-Doo usually left me dumb-founded at the lengths that the criminals would go to (so, uh, you had a ghost pirate ship built and figured out how to rig the walls to let you slip past them to pretend you were a ghost, a plot that probably required a million dollars...just to take over a house that cost a hundred grand?), the Professor Layton series might leave me scratching my head a few times, but I'll usually shrug and go with it.

I think one thing I love about the series (including this movie) is that every character is distinctive, and there's little overlap between designs.  In a shot with a lot of characters, you're easily able to figure out who everybody is, and each character has their own distinct personality and characterization.

The movie faithfully follows the story laid out through the games, and seemed to insert itself seamlessly between game episodes.  Puzzles are presented to the characters, and while one or two made me think it involved a rather huge logic leap, I was actually able to solve a couple right there with the characters.  I never once felt dumb for not solving a puzzle, and while things seemed "out there" sometimes, each puzzle did, in the end, follow real logic in its solution.

The story is primarily a hook to get the characters involved.  A letter comes to Professor Layton from an old student of his who has since become a famous opera singer.  She claims to have met a young child who claims to be the reborn spirit of her best friend who died a year prior.  Once at the opera, the Professor and his friends find themselves caught up in a dangerous game, where the winner is promised a chance to live forever.

Now, I will admit I had a slight bit of trouble getting hooked at the beginning as the setting and characters were being explained, but as soon as it jumped to "kidnapping an entire audience and forcing them to play a game that could be called "only one person survives this but gets a really sweet prize"" I was grabbed.  Nothing could pull my attention from seeing what was going to happen next.

The animation is extremely smooth and well done, and moments of CG blend extremely well with the cel-shaded animation.  There were a few extremely well-framed sequences of action, and had it not been foregone knowledge that certain characters would survive to the end, I would have actually felt tense at how a few scenes went.

I highly recommend this movie to everybody who likes to see a main character who uses his head more often than he gets in a fight.  Also, if you do watch it, I want you to keep track of how often, if ever, you find yourself going "wait, no, that's just stupid."  If you do it once, then I want to sit down with you and figure out where the movie lost you, because I can nit pick with the best of them, but my disbelief remained thoroughly suspended through the whole thing.

1 comment:

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