Review: Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi' is a Wonderful, Visual 3D Masterpiece
by Alex Billington
November 12, 2012
A boy and his tiger. Or rather, a boy and the tiger. The impossible, unbelievable, incredible story of Piscine Patel and Richard Parker as brought to life on the big screen. It was Ang Lee who decided to adapt Yann Martel's novel of a story recalled to him by Mr. Patel, about the time he was stuck on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific for over 200 days with no one else besides a tiger. The story is known as the Life of Pi and it documents the miracles, and hope, that exist in this world. Lee adapted the "unadaptable" into a beautiful visual spectacle and 3D masterpiece, utilizing every trick in the book to make us believe in Pi and his story.
Life of Pi, similar to the novel, is framed within the context of the author, Yann Martel, meeting an adult Pi Patel in Canada, where he now lives, and being told the story of his life. While it works as good background in the book, explaining that Pi grew up in a zoo, practiced three religions, and set sail with his entire family and all the zoo animals, it's a bit of an awkward opening in the film. The film fades between the meeting and flashbacks, before eventually settling on the story at sea. In the middle of the Pacific, the Japanese freighter ship sinks in a storm, and Pi somehow makes it out safely on a large lifeboat, joined by a zebra, hyena, tiger and an orangutan. How exactly does he survive? That is the experience to savor for the movie theater itself.
I'm not one to usually support 3D, but Ang Lee uses it masterfully here, enhancing the experience with extra depth and realism. This is one of those films where it's easy to get completely lost in the world, and never feel jerked out by an object "sticking out of the screen". Like James Cameron's Avatar and Martin Scorsese's Hugo before it, Life of Pi is a 3D masterpiece, combined with awe-inspiring cinematography and visuals. While the colors are lush and bright, they're never unrealistic or glaring. Lee pays close attention to detail, making sure the audience is provided the perfect angle at all times for an emotional journey through the window of the silver screen. Gorgeous is an absolute understatement in describing the look of this movie.
Where the story truly shines is in its moments of brilliant cinematic magic, the kind that elicit emotions without even asking, but at the same time make your jaw drop out of awe and wonder. There's many of them in this story, and Ang Lee makes sure to bring everything to life with the right touch, but never let the magic linger too long so as to wear off its mystique. There are minor lulls and downtime as we follow Pi and his struggles on the lifeboat, but they're worth getting through for moments of sheer fascination and celluloid joy. The kind of moments that remind us "this is why I go to the movies" and also "this is why I love them."
The biggest revelations in Life of Pi are the two lead actors: Piscine Patel, played by Suraj Sharma, and Richard Parker, the tiger. There's a line in the film about Pi looking into the eyes of an animal and seeing that it has a soul, that there's something in there. I felt like I could feel that myself looking into the eyes of the tiger, and yet I no idea which scenes used a complete CGI creation and which used a real tiger. Though I want to believe they never used a real tiger, which would make this an even great achievement, because I was convinced he was real throughout. Suraj Sharma, as well, brings a deep emotion to playing Pi perfectly.
Ang Lee tells stories straight from the heart, and this is a movie where the compassion he puts into every frame is almost tangible. While the journey may have a few rough spots, overall I believe everyone who sees this may be inspired and will find some joy in watching it. There's too many truly magical moments for this to not evoke a passionate emotion. At the very least, the strongest message is my favorite line in the film: "Above all, don't lose hope." Ever. Even if your stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger in the middle of the Pacific.
Alex's Rating: 9 out of 10