When it comes to the novel Life of Pi, I’ve heard from one end of the spectrum to the other. One person told me it’s one of the worst books and couldn’t finish it, while another person told me it’s one of his wife’s favorite books. Having seen Ang Lee’s film adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel, I can see how both sides are probably correct. I have no interest in cracking open the book, as the movie makes me think it would be quite yawn-inducing. However, Lee, with screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), overruns Life of Pi with the year’s most jaw-dropping visuals and crafts the most emotionally vested film so far this season.
Life of Pi is exactly that. The Writer (Rafe Spall) meets with Older Pi (Irrfan Khan) after it is suggested to him that Pi has a story that will make him believe in God. Pi goes into his early life in some detail; young Pi (Ayush Tandon) deals with schoolchildren who make fun of his full name, Piscine, and how he grew up in a zoo owned by his Father (Adil Hussain).
Over the years Pi nearly gets killed wanting to see into a Bengal tiger’s soul; then when he is a teenager (now played by Suraj Sharma) his father informs the family that they will be moving to Winnipeg, Canada. The animals are packed on board a freighter ship and they hit the high seas. The meat of the story picks up here when the ship sinks, killing everyone on board, aside from Pi, the tiger, a hyena, an orangutan, and a zebra with a broken leg. Now Pi is set against all odds with far worse stowaways than Castaway’s Wilson ever could have been.
After Pi tells the Writer his unbelievable tale of survival, the latter says “That’s a lot to take in,” and it’s beyond true. Suraj Sharma gets to deliver quite a tour de force performance, especially considering he’s basically acting against a green screen for an hour of the film. I said that I still don’t have any interest in reading the original novel and that’s because there’s no way the book could ever trump what’s on display here. The film is visually astonishing thanks to help from cinematographer Claudio Miranda and especially Rhythm and Hues Studios. Lee has delivered a masterpiece, and I won’t be surprised when Life of Pi sweeps at least the technical awards.
Lee should also do well as far as directing goes too, bringing the story sensibilities he’s always had from Eat Drink Man Woman, Sense and Sensibility, The Ice Storm, Ride with the Devil, and Brokeback Mountain. It also showcases the technical merits he’s learned from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hulk. Some may not have been as turned on by his last two efforts, Lust, Caution or Taking Woodstock, but he’s more than recovered with Life of Pi, delivering a sweeping epic of survival and one of the year’s best films that demands to be seen in 3D and on as big of screen as possible. There’s a reason Life of Pi is playing in IMAX 3D, because that’s where it needs to see be seen.
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