Life of Pi: Movie Review
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu
Director: Ang Lee
Fans of Yann Martel's book The Life Of Pi will be happy to see the release of Life Of Pi as the New Year rings out across the world (assuming the Mayans weren't correct and all that).
It's the tale of Pi (Irrfan Khan), whose father owned the animals in a zoo in India. When the family falls foul of a dispute with the government, they decide to pack up the zoo and head to Canada, hitching a ride on a freighter with all the animals.
But tragedy hits and a massive storm sinks the freighter, leaving only Pi, a hyena, a zebra, orangutan, and a Bengal tiger on a boat.
This is the tale of how the 16 year old Pi survived the 227 days he was at sea and the magical adventure which befell him.
And as with all fables, it's rife with interpretation.
Life of Pi certainly hits a visual high note thanks to the work done by director Ang Lee.
Aside from the animation of the tiger, scenes where the 3D really soars are the ones where the visual experience is extended, enhanced and expanded.
A scene where Pi is afloat on the waters at night positively glows with magic as the sea creatures and jellyfish around him come to life - and to light. Awash with greens, blues and yellows, there are definitely echoes of the sprites sequence in the first Avatar. When Pi comes across a floating island inhabited solely by meerkats, there's character aplenty in each critter rather than the soulless mass rendering of the animal. The FX work is truly second to none on a tale which is essentially a boy in a boat with a tiger (though Sharma deserves credit for his acting work to what must have only been a greenscreen)
Likewise, Richard Parker, the tiger is brought wonderfully to life, yet another digital masterpiece, so three dimensional that we feel an instant emotional connection to the beast. And speaking of the animation of this beast, it's utterly incredible and totally flawless, drawing you in through his eyes and pulling at your heartstrings as the journey unfolds. It's utterly impressive how far the technology has come in the years and how the work has resulted in us occasionally having more of a connection to a virtual world than to the actors on the screen. And much like Tom Hanks had Wilson in Castaway, Pi has Richard Parker.
Which makes it a shame to say that some of the narrative choices serve to only detract from the magical mystical tale (though one suspects that is not director Ang Lee's choices as he's clearly adhering to the structure of the book,)
The decision to keep pulling back to current day with Pi telling his story to Rafe Spall's writer.is disruptive on this journey of the senses. Voiceover would have worked equally well and particularly given these scenes add little narratively other than to show you that the reminiscing is continuing, the structural choice is a jarring one to the overall experience.
Sadly, the spiritual and philosophical tale isn't one which connected at all with me and I think the seed of doubt which is sown by the final moments of the film is detrimental to what's gone beforehand. I left, not knowing what the true story of Pi was but having seen a film which visually enriched my soul - even if some of its ideas failed to even light an ember.