Review: Life of Pi
PLOT: The story of Pi (Suraj Sharma)- a sixteen year-old Indian boy, who survives a shipwreck, and finds himself adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger- named Richard Parker. Not only does Pi have to try and survive on the open ocean, but he also has to use all of his ingenuity to keep the tiger tame and fed- lest it devour him.
REVIEW: An adaptation of Yann Martel’s landmark novel, which none other than Barack Obama once called “an elegant proof of God”, LIFE OF PI was a book many considered unfilmable. Considering that the majority of the book is about a teen boy trapped on a lifeboat with a man-eating tiger, it must have been a logistical nightmare.
I mean, how could you possibly film the tiger? The only way would be if it was kept stoned out of it's whiskers for months on end- but then you would have had a pretty sleepy star. Naturally- this would have been impossible to shoot- provided the filmmakers were sane. Thanks to a hefty $100 million budget, it was possible to make the animals (including a zebra and a orangutan) CGI. Only a few years ago, this would have been either impossible or ridiculously fake-looking, but I defy anyone to watch LIFE OF PI and not be convinced the animals weren't real. If indeed, they've all been rendered with CGI, I say LIFE OF PI needs to win the best visual fx award at this year's Oscars, as that alone is a towering achievement.
But how is the movie itself?
Actually pretty great, for the most part. Director Ang Lee tends to be hit an miss for me. I'm one of the few that thought CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON was wildly overrated (any Shaw Bros., film is far better), and I despised his take on THE HULK. But, I also loved THE ICE STORM, and I thought BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN was a masterpiece. While LIFE OF PI isn't quite on that level, it can't be denied that Lee has probably made the best adaptation of Yann Martel's book that's possible. While I found the first half-hour a little frenzied, and jarring in it's flashback/flash-forward technique, once the shipwreck kicks in, and Pi finds himself adrift, it becomes pretty astonishing.
Far from just being about a boy adrift on the sea, Lee, with some of the best 3D photography I've ever seen, turns Pi's physical and mental struggle to survive into a hallucinogenic semi-masterpiece. It's certainly one of the most gorgeous films I've seen in a long time, and Pi's spiritual awakening, and fantasies are brilliant conveyed.
Suraj Sharma, an eighteen-year-old newcomer, is excellent as Pi- who's portrayed as somewhat naive in his enthusiastic embrace of all religion (being a Hindu-catholic-muslim), prompting a memorable admonishment from his pragmatic father- where he says, “I'd rather you believe in something I don't than just follow everything blindly.” Once on his own on the open sea- with the very hungry Richard Parker, Sharma makes his evolution into a surprisingly self-reliant, and ingenious survivor truly inspiring.
While it's certainly almost a one-man show, LIFE OF PI does have a few juicy supporting parts, the most important being Irrfan Khan as the older Pi, and Rafe Spall as Martel. Khan is good as always- especially towards the end, while Spall as a fairly blank role, once which (apparently) was originally filmed with Tobey Maguire, until Lee decided having a star in such a minor part would be distracting (he's right).
All told, I thought LIFE OF PI was a pretty great film, and certainly something that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible at the most technically advanced theater you can find. I'd also say that it's an excellent film for kids- although the shipwreck (an amazing setpiece) is intense, and some of the animals meet rather untimely ends. That said, this is really one the whole family can enjoy- and hopefully it'll be successful. It certainly deserves to be.