Welcome one and all to an evening of music that haunts the soul, puzzles that challenge the mind and a mystery that will tantalize your innate hunger for excitement. Delve into one of the earliest cases of his career and join me for an evening of puzzles in this New Years edition of Molly Rants-a-lot!
I hope that got your attention, because you’ll need to be at the top of your solving game as we follow our intrepid duo, Hershel Layton and Luke Triton, through a bizarre case of music, myth and eternal life. However, leave that stylus on the shelf, because we’re solving this Blue’s Clues style. Get comfy in that thinking chair. This film rightfully boasts features pulled directly from the popular game series, puzzle music and all and the way they worked them into the plot was pretty ingenious, though to a fault. The attention to detail is all there, but like any good thing, missteps were taken but its nothing more than a trifle.
Where better to begin than from the very beginning. Here we are neatly tying the ends of a Big Ben mystery, Don Paolo modeling his latest impossible disguise and gogo gadget. What better way to kick off this film than to go about things the way we know best, ditch Flora (again) and chase a crazed Paolo off a bridge. Now turn things back a good three years. Luke is still wet behind the ears and Layton still has his spunky, camera-toting, a**-kicking assistant, Emmy under his employment. If you’re asking me who Emmy is, I’ll point you in the direction of the latest Layton game, “The Last Specter” to answer some lingering questions. Though the series of events that transpire follow “Specter”, having the game under your belt is hardly necessary.
You can get along just fine with previous game knowledge alone. Just remember, it’s three years before “Curious Village”, there’s a villain switch (introduced in “Specter”) and there is a reliable female protagonist. Actually, Emmy’s a great addition to the team and the dynamic between Luke and Emmy is adorable like that of a couple of siblings. But for the record, Luke is the Professor’s APPRENTICE NUMBER ONE! Now that that is cleared up, let’s get on with the show.
The basics of the mystery are spoon-fed to us within minutes so allow me to move through this bit with swiftness. Layton and company find themselves at the opening night of the Crown Petone Theater’s production of Oswald Whistler’s, The Eternal City, starring Layton’s former student, Janice Quatlane. A young girl approaches Janice claiming to be Whistler’s deceased daughter, Melina. If that wasn’t enough, this odd child claims to have the “gift of eternal life”. This odd one is also the “adopted” child of Oswald Whistler. Got it? Moving on.
The mystery lies in the story of the lost city of Ambrosia. Think Atlantis. Seriously. Alright, not exactly. Wait no. Yeah, its like Atlantis. A lost city that has been found and…… Ok fine, not like Atlantis. Ambrosia’s beloved queen died of an illness just moments before a cure was presented. This cure was elixir of eternal life. Taken by the inhabitants of Ambrosia, the queen’s followers live on to see the rise of their queen once more. But is this all really important?
Now, let’s get down to business. This film was fun. Period. For Layton-fans such as myself and Bismarck, this was an amusing walk-about with elements we both highly appreciated. In-action puzzles complete with live puzzling music allowed the viewer to join in on the solving fun along side Layton and Luke. “Puzzle 0-0-1” was enough to set off our boundless excitement. Watching these beloved games come to life made the first twenty or so minutes a real treat. By this point, however, things got way out of hand.
We’ve got our puzzles, what could possibly go wrong? Just about everything, actually. Avoiding spoilers at all costs, I’ll leave you to sleuth out where this film went terribly nutty. Think back to the games. In about 10 to 13 chapters we are handed a number of arbitrary side stories and random clues that don’t come together to create a cohesive mystery until the climax of the final chapter. It takes between 12 and 20 hours for a normal person to complete the story of the games. In the time it takes to get through the prologue of the games, plot twist after plot twist comes down upon us like a barrage of dodge balls. These plot devices are more or less unnecessary, but they up the action and make for an exciting watching experience.
The resolution to the plot was uncharacteristic to the Layton games and (like the ending to “Last Specter”) put Disney’s “Atlantis” to shame. My temptation to just unpack this entire film and spoil everything there is to be spoiled is strong. If you thought time machines were unLaytonesque, just wait for this. Kidnappings, crazed composers, evil archaeologists, mind-controlled wolves and sharks, unnecessarily complicated robot mansions and just 4 labeled puzzles (and 2-3 plot related and entirely unrelated puzzles). Where this film overshot in writing and lacked in cohesive composition (i.e. loose ends, unexplained motifs such as said sharks) they made up for in small tokens of appreciation towards the franchise’s loyal fans.
Plot related chaos aside, not all was lost. The musical tie-ins were genius. The game NPC cameos made the viewers key into even the simplest background scenarios (can you spot them all?). Not to mention one of the best McGyver moments Layton has had to date (yes, right up there with his slot-machine coin gun from “Unwound Future”). After a pack of wolves chases Layton and company into a tool shed, Layton points out that they have stumbled into yet another puzzle that will grant them means of escape. Chain-saw powered helicopter is definitely the first thing I thing I think of upon entering a tool shed.
Oh wait, I’ve got just one more qualm and I just can’t let this go. Alright, so, here we are watching Layton watch an “Opera”. Problem number 0-0-1. This is no opera under traditional standards. By no means is it operatic, but it wasn’t a musical either. The only one who sang and danced was Janice. I guess you could say this show was merely a distraction. Problem number 0-0-2. There is one song in the entire show. To my understanding, traditional operas are performed in any feasible language, but there was something generally awkward about a main character who speaks in English and sings only in Japanese. Understanding that time and funds were of the essence, they couldn’t have just bothered to translate and re-record the song? It was an odd bump in an otherwise smooth road. The song itself is beautiful, but if you’re going to dub, go all the way. End of “just one more qualm”.
Upon watching “Eternal Diva” for the first time, I couldn’t help but ask myself “why so many arbitrary elements? Sharks? Wolves? Giant detachable boat-theater? One word: Grosky. Grosky of the Yard takes the cake for most absurd Layton character design: the impossible anatomy with the general lack of knees, bullet-proof barrel chest and ever-stay pompadour. The whole purpose of the boat and shark infested waters was to give Grosky something to do even if that something is to gracefully swan dive into the water, wrestle a few sharks, appear at the end of the film in time to arrest the baddie. Best. Pompadour. Ever.
So was I vague enough for you? I hope I have piqued your interest enough to partake in this film. Despite a few glaring draw backs, I loved this Layton edition and was worth the $20 at Kinokuniya. Do not fret if you haven’t completed “Last Specter” (which I hadn’t until just yesterday). The film sets itself up in a way that any viewer, familiar with Layton or otherwise, can easily enjoy the plot, its characters and the very aspects that give the games its charm. Give it a shot, new and returning fans, and let me know your thoughts! I myself give this film a B for Layton fans, A- for the rest of us.
Boy, I’m happy to be back! The past number of months have been chaos, but they have given me the wonderful opportunity to pick up some more little treasures to share with all! If there is something you want me to review, let me know! I wish you all a happy and safe New Year! Stay sane, my friends.
Bibbles out, once more.