What a coincidence! I explicated my thoughts regarding live-action adaptations just before I got my hands on the new Blu Ray collection of the DEATH NOTE movies. As you all saw (almost every day, for more than a month) I quite enjoyed the DEATH NOTE anime, so I’ve got a little more of a vested interest in the plot and execution of this one.
Before anything else…
Why the hell is “Dani California” the outro song for this? I’m utterly baffled. Sure, it’s one of RHCP’s catchier singles. It’s a barrel of fun to play on Rock Band, but I don’t see what it has to do with DEATH NOTE, neither lyrically nor musically. If anybody thought the second, nu metal intro for the show was inappropriate, you’re probably going to have aneurism about this. Just a bizarre, non-sequitor note to end this movie on.
There’s been some controversy about the prospective American remake excising all references to the Shinigami and I hate to say that this is proof that Ryuk would really have to go. Don’t get me wrong - - his presence in the show was delightfully macabre. He was awesome. But they also had 36 odd episodes delving into his world. They actually set up where the death note came from and why it’s on Earth. In this movie, Light literally stumbles upon it on the street, and then Ryuk shows up a about ten minutes later. That's it. That's all you get. Is everything clear?
The animation on Ryuk's kind of unusual, too. The model’s a bit cartoonish, but they’ve lavished plenty of care on the environmental effects. You get this unusual sense that Ryuk is, indeed, physically there with the actors, but he’d squish if they touched him.As for performances? It's hard to judge performances in another language. The guy playing L certainly looks L. He's got the mannerisms and everything (although his cookie monster habits are a lot grosser in live action.) The guy playing Light seems like less of a prep than the toon one does, even though he's got a bizarre habit of playing basketball in cargo pants.
I enjoyed this, but I was looking at as more of a curiosity. I think this DEATH NOTE's a story that needs a lot of time and space to be told properly. Somebody who hasn’t watched anything before this is going to be thoroughly confused, because it doesn't really stand on its own. As much as I thought the climax was a clever combination of the conclusions of the first two arcs, it doesn't really tie anything up except to say that Light's a callus scumbag and he can control people through the death note. Everything else is still up in the air, still unresolved. And, even with the added discussions with Light’s girlfriend and that whole episode at the dive bar, the movie never really delves too deeply into Kira’s motivations (he gets the note, he goes power mad and then the cops want to stop.) It just seemed like a lot of events in sequence, without the motivations, explanations and connections you needed (but got in the anime.)
Finally, maybe this is a consequence of watching this on super-pristine Blu Ray, but this was one of the few movies I can ever think of where the production design was actually distracting. Every location is so clean and well lit that… for lack of a better comparison… I felt like I was watching an Ikea commericial. Even the dive bar was tidy, for crying out loud...Anyway, stay tuned for my thoughts on the sequel, THE LAST NAME.