Wednesday, November 21
REVIEW: Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
2012 Adventure Drama
2 hours 7 minutes
From 20th Century Fox
That superb director Ang Lee has done it again. He has pulled off another well-crafted film that should be highly regarded and well-remembered. Lee's talents come partly out of his uncanny ability to see something cinematic in stories that others may not so readily touch and his willingness to cover ground he has not attempted before. He spins through many different genres, time frames and takes us to various parts of the world. I don't recall any of his films feeling much like any of his other films. He is an absolute original and a master craftsman to boot.
The Life of Pi has a touch of magic in it, which was aided even more by the exquisite 3D version we saw. It is a fantastical, bold adventure story about a teenage Indian boy, Pi Patel, and his family who have left their native land for a new life in Canada. Boarding a freighter, the family of four brought along a menagerie of animals from the zoo they maintained back home. After a shipwreck kills everyone except Pi, he finds himself adrift in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, orangutan and a rather ferocious Bengal tiger.
The lovely screenplay is by David Magee, who knows a little about whimsy given his similar work on Finding Neverland and another work I found quite charming, Miss Pettrigrew Lives for a Day. Here the story is told in flashback with occasional returns to current times, features an older Pi relating his high adventure to a writer. But the fact is nearly the entire movie takes place on that lifeboat. It would have been a very quiet movie if it weren't for the man's narration and a snarling tiger.
Quicker than you can say Tallulah Bankhead (wink-wink to you savvy insiders), the kid and the animals are in serious trouble, both from one another and the elements. Since we know the older man is telling the tale, it shouldn't be a stretch to know it all works out but it's quite a ride getting there.
How to film a movie with a tiger loose in a small space on the open sea (or even a large tank) must have posed some early challenges. It certainly must have been the case when author Yann Martel thought of his novel being turned into a film. I think this is the time to say there's good news and bad news. First the bad. The tiger is apparently a complete work of the CGI folks. The good news is it's nearly impossible to detect. This tiger is proof positive of how far this process has come. I don't know if there were any quick shots of a real tiger or not but what we see is lifelike, huge and fierce. I jumped more than once... of course that 3D had me believing the beast was in my lap.
The kid on the raft, Suraj Sharma, is winning and believable, a fine young actor. Regrettably, at least for me, I couldn't understand half of what he said and even less if he said it very quickly. And one can assume that when a tiger is about to eat you, one speaks rapidly. A small complaint, however, because this film is about the visuals.
Frankly, I'd say it rather assaults the orbs, a feast for the eyes. Again more CGI certainly takes us there a number of times, but the images are often quite stunning with a festoon of colors and shapes and sizes and fish and storms and mayhem. Attaboys to Claudio Miranda's lush photography which is simply breathtaking. There is a wonderful sense of space and distance or lack thereof that permeated the film. It could be seen in the smallness of the lifeboat against the vastness of the sea or the night sky with its twinkling stars and clouds or with the flying fish or the small space between the boy and the tiger.
I did not read the book nor do I know anyone who did or at least anyone who finished it. Three friends have told me they couldn't get that far into it. Having seen the film, fine as it is, if one takes the visuals away, I'd surely take away one of my three stars. And therefore I wonder if the spiritual message or tone of the book was diminished in any way because it wasn't enhanced by exciting physical business. There was a spiritual message as well, seen through the narration and actions of the boy. Being fond of Eastern spiritualism and philosophies, I enjoyed this aspect of the film.
Except for the very young, I think this is a film for all ages, that decent family film you're looking for to round up the gang and head out to the cineplex. Load up on those drinks and candy and popcorn and put on those funny glasses and have yourself a ball. I might advise to put the drink in the cupholder when not actually taking a sip. When that tiger jumps, you will, too, and there goes that drink.
NEXT POSTING: By Her Own Hand