The live action Death Note based off of the popular manga and anime series was released today on Netflix which brought about a reasonable wave of excitement. Being that the anime is considered to be the greatest of all time, a live action reboot was sure to be successful given the excellent source material.
Unfortunately that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’ll stop here and say that if you’ve never seen the anime, a lot of what I’m going to say in this review won’t make much sense. That being said you might enjoy the movie more having not seen the show but I’m still going to warn you–it’s a C- movie at best.
Ok let’s get into some specifics.
When I first pressed play via my XboxOne I immediately looked at the duration of the film because I was incredibly curious to see how in the world 37 episodes was going to be condensed to a movie format. I was expecting at least two hours if not 2:15 and even then I had a feeling it would be short selling itself. When I saw that this film was going to run a paltry 102 minutes I was filled with dread.
“There’s no way they’re going to fit in this whole story with all the complexity and intrigue into an hour and a half,” I thought. “This is going to be an underwhelming exercise in short-selling and underwhelming mediocrity.”
Sometimes I hate being right.
If you’re a fan of the anime, like I am, please understand that basically the only similarities between the show and the film are some of the characters and the very basic premise. Everything else is pretty much a restructuring of the plot and the appeal that made the anime so amazing. Most of the events, circumstances, and characters that made the anime awesome are either ignored, rushed, or completely changed. As time went on it played more and more like an adaptation and less like a remake. So please know that going in. While the anime’s focus is on the cat and mouse type detective thriller, the movie’s focus is more like a gore-filled, action packed romance movie.
Yeah…my reaction too.
The main problem as I alluded to before is the time constraint. There’s no way the director was going to fit in the mystery, intelligence, and the game-of-wits that surrounds Light and L’s relationship. Death Note is far too dynamic and thorough to be wedged into such a tight window. The director had no choice but to pace it like an episode of CSI–fast, aggressive, and centered on action and movement rather than dialogue and suspense.
None of the characters are really likable. Light Turner (yes…in the movie it’s Turner) comes off as a sadistic brat who’s anger and lack of control makes him seem more psychopathic rather than steady and calculating. L is the same way…at first he seems in unflustered and in control as he’s portrayed in the anime, but later he becomes a raving madman as he gradually loses control over the situation.
The only character that I thought was well-cast if not perfect for the role was William Defoe as Ryuk, the shinigami death god. In fact I can’t imagine a better casting for the part. Unfortunately Ryuk doesn’t play as big of a role in the movie and does a few out of character things that really made him somewhat disappointing as well.
Most of the focus is on Mia Sutton, the movie’s replacement for Misa-Misa. She knows about the death note from the beginning and assists Light with his killings. I don’t want to give away the plot but she does some crazy out-of-character things that left me shaking my head in dismay. She becomes more of an antagonist to Light than L in many ways.
This departure from the original personas in the show is what really lost me. In the anime I had a great deal of respect for both Light and L’s intelligence, awareness, and their ability to stay cool under pressure. This dynamic is what kept me watching–the chess match of wits that kept the show interesting and engaging. There’s some of that portrayed in the film but once again since the plot has to keep moving there’s very little substance present. Like I said before there’s a lot of focus on running, chasing, and violence rather than the mental games that the show is known for.
If you didn’t like the ending of the show (which I did by the way) then you really won’t like the ending of the movie. It’s so garbled, unrealistic and contrived that you may just find yourself shutting off your T.V. in disgust–if of course you don’t die of boredom first. The movie really is boring–especially for me who was comparing it to the anime the entire time. If you haven’t seen the anime you might like the movie because of the premise but just know you’re getting a very poor representation of how brilliant the story really is.
In conclusion this live-action remake is a major disappointment–even more so to the fans of the anime because of the compromised story line, departure from the characterizations found in the original series, and the lack of focus and pacing throughout the paltry time-frame. It really goes to show you that the sacrifice needed to condense a complex story-line into a shorter format really does not justify the losses to character development, intrigue and suspense–the very pillars that the show was built on.
I strongly encourage you to watch the anime version if the concept intrigues you. It’s more of a journey, of course, lasting 37 episodes but it’s well worth it. I’ve never been much of an anime/manga fan but Death Note is a powerful tale of morality, pride, and tragedy that deserves the justice that the live-action remake simply does not provide.