Life of Pi
, based on Yann Martel
's "unfilmable" award-winning novel, made it to the theatres late in 2012
. Ang Lee
's adaptation may not, as its hero claims, make you believe in God
, but I know it made me forgive the director for Hulk
and reconsider the viability of 3-D movies
It concerns a boy who gets shipwrecked with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Pi, a young Indian named for a French swimming pool, grows up in a zoo and becomes fascinated with religions. When times threaten to turn difficult, his parents pack up the family and head to Canada on the same ship that will transport most of the zoo animals for sale.
When a storm wrecks the ship, Pi must survive a harrowing ocean journey against seemingly impossible odds and fantastic events. Richard Parker, the most immediate threat, must also become his ally.
Many readers find the book slow-moving, especially in the initial portions that develop Pi's character before his fateful journey. The movie, wisely, minimizes those portions. They serve their purpose, but the creators knew that a film had to find its way to sea before long. Nevertheless, the pacing still lags in some places.
A great deal rests upon the cast, in particular, the previously-unknown lead. Fortunately, teen actor Shiraj Sharma proves equal to the task. He apparently took intensive training in ocean survival, yoga, and other relevant disciplines. His preparation shows. The rest of the human cast do admirably-- and the animals are outstanding.
The animals are a mix of real creatures and CGI. These effects rank with the best past achievements. Richard Parker is as fully-realized and credible a character as the cinematic Gollum. The film's incredible visual elements may be, in fact, its greatest achievement.
For the first time— ever— I exited a 3-D film without thinking one of the following:
a) The effects are cool, but I'd have been just as happy without them. Stupid extra fee for glasses I'm going to return!
b) What a freakin' pointless overused gimmick! Please, Hollywood, stop with the 3-D!
Ang Lee has composed shots which would look fine in 2-D, but look spectacular in three dimensions. They evoke the sense of wonder for which previous 3-D films have strived and failed. Visually, Pi
shares space with Kubrick
's 2001: A Space Odyssey
Then there's Pi's promise that his story will make the hearer believe in God.
Apparently, the critic at The Village Voice found that the film (like the novel) stacked its theological deck. I say, while not as complex as the book (and open to the same criticisms), the answer provided to the question of God's existence is far more ambiguous than that critic may have realized. The ending won't surprise those who have read the novel, but it manages to capture something of that ending's wonder and mind-warpery.
Of course, the film becomes more overt than the novel when explaining the possible significances of the final revelations. This lent to the proceedings a tedious and unnecessary quality. Pi's reflections on spirituality seem overall less like an individual's thoughts and more like pontifications when placed in this cinematic context.
Keep eyes and mind open, however. I don't share Pi's apparent conclusions, but I am pleased to follow the journey that led him there.
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by David Magee from the novel by Yann Martel
Cinematography by Claudio Miranda
Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel
Irrfan Khan as Pi Patel (adult)
Ayush Tandon as Pi Patel (twelve years)
Gautam Belur as Pi Patel (five years)
Adil Hussain as Santosh Patel
Tabu as Gita Patel
Ayan Khan, Mohd Abbas Khaleeli, and Vibish Svakumar as Ravi Patel
Rafe Spall as novelist
Gérard Depardieu as ship's cook
Shravanthi Sainath as Anandi
James Saito as older investigator
Jun Naito as younger investigator
Four tigers and a vast number of f/x people as Richard Parker