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Movie Review: Life of Pi

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Somehow I wasn’t expecting to be handed a pair of 3-D glasses – a good, sturdy collectable pair – when I viewed director Ang Lee’s new film, Life of Pi in 3-D. I hadn’t seen  a 3-D film since Andy Warhol’s Dracula (1974), and I would have guessed the technology to be more advanced by now.

It worried me that author Yann Martel’s 2001 novel of the same name, a book I concluded could never be adequately adapted to film when I read it years ago, was being given the kind of pre-publicity campaign treatment I’d expect from a new Transformers movie. My Facebook page has been deluged with promotion for the film (my own falut when I “liked” it), and Life of Pi collectable figurines have been popping up all over the internet. I even received an email inviting me to an online auction of props and artifacts from the making of the film.

So as I adjusted my large, awkward and just a tad humiliating 3-D glasses, I was convinced my favorite novel of the last twenty years had been ambushed by Hollywood’s expectation of eternal profit. But then the movie began like a quiet symphony and roared to its destination with the kind of grace reserved for opera and ballet. Director Lee has captured the very soul of the book.

The story concerns a family in India who own and operate a small and quaint zoo, which looks, thanks to the gorgeous 3-D photogrpahy, like a suburban Eden oasis with gentle animals roaming and birds fluttering from the heavens. Due to financial conditions in India, the family – the parents and two teenage sons – decide to emigrate to Canada on a shipping vessel with a small horde of their animals in cages. The ship is ravaged by a severe storm, and the younger son, Piscine (Pi) is thrust into the ocean on a lifeboat that can barely stay afloat in the violent storm. As the storm breaks and the delirious Pi drifts further into an oceanic abyss, he finds he is sharing his boat with an orangutan, a spotted hyena, a zebra, and one very large and scary Bengal tiger. In little time the tiger makes quick dinner of the surviving animals, and thus begins the journey of Pi – how he stayed alive for 227 days on a small lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a hungry Bengal tiger.

It seemed to me the biggest difficulty in filming Life of Pi was director Lee’s task of making the animals as genuine and ferocious as they are in the book. He succeeds by allowing the computer graphic design to define the subjects with biological accuracy while leaving just a little space for artistic whimsy. The CGI gives the fable a mystical, surreal appearance by clarifying the godliness and might of the tiger, and the comical and tragic plight of the other animals, through subtle touches of design.

Even more impressive is Lee’s cinematic beauty. In one memorable scene, the starry ocean night sky illuminates phosphoresce sea creatures as the lifeboat drifts on the calm surface. The scene is the very image of “being” or godhead, with the night stars, the illuminated ocean and the small boat looking like a single entity in the great cosmic universe. The beguiling 3-D technology is at times, like looking into a magnified aquarelle of color and light with each passing image presenting itself like a living artwork of great depth. While awe-striking, the film’s beauty is never overbearing and is strictly aligned with the telling of the story.

And what a beautiful adventure it is, with a commanding philisophical narrative that seems to encompass all philisophical and religious decree. You can view this movie on several levels – as excellent entertainment, or as intellectual fodder for mind provocation. It is also emotionally exhausting. Pi’s relationship with the tiger is an uplifting and joyous experience to witness.

Actor Suraj Sharma as Pi, delivers a most understated and empowered performance. Standing admist the superlative effects and astounding imagery, Sharma is the lifeblood of the movie, adding the human equation to the majesty of the elements of nature.

If possible, Life of Pi should be seen while wearing the ridiculous 3-D glasses. You’ll soon forget you’re wearing them.

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About Guy De Federicis