Unfilmable. That was the word to describe the Yan Martel’s best selling novel, “Life of Pi.” Many directors including M. Night Shyamalan passed on the project deeming it a tough sell to a big screen audience. Who could blame them? I, myself had reservations about a movie where a teenager shares a small lifeboat with a tiger and judging by the commercials, is not mauled in the first five seconds on the boat. The job eventually went to Ang Lee. A surprising choice since Lee crashed and burned with a big budget film before he directed the Hulk. Lee had an ace up his sleeve. Not only would he make the unfilmable novel, he would do it in 3D.
Life of Pi begins with a writer who is looking for a fresh new story through an acquaintance he meets with Pi Patel. Pi has an incredible story about his life. Pi begins to tell the writer about his past life living at a zoo in India owned by his family. He overcomes criticisms from his classmates, his brother and strict father, but remains positive. That is until he finds out his father has taken a job at a zoo in Canada where he has sold all the families animals. The story Pi tells is unbelievable.
The Patels jump on a freighter and cross the Pacific heading to their new life as Canadian zoo keepers. Along the way, trouble hits and Pi is left marooned on a lifeboat with a few surviving animals, including a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. Pi has to learn how to coexist with his ferocious shipmate if he wants to survive the journey.
I need to take a moment to state that Life of Pi is the best 3D film I have seen since Avatar. Avatar is still the standard when it comes to the 3D medium, but Life of Pi is a close second. Life of Pi is however, the best film to enhance the editing of a film with 3D. The 3D is used as transitions in the story telling when jumping from past to present day and vice-verse. At times you felt as if you were floating in the water with Pi going from surface to underwater views. The 3D in Life of Pi also created a first for me. Embarrassingly, I was actually startled enough by a 3D visual to jump from my seat.
The 3D isn’t the only spectacular effect in Life of Pi. Richard Parker, the Bengal Tiger who shares the boat with Pi, is the most realistic CG tiger I have ever seen. The way he moved, growled and pounced at his prey seemed disturbingly real. I almost couldn’t tell the tiger was computer generated – unlike the fake looking wolves of Twilight, Richard Parker is seen as a living breathing creature on-screen.
All the great effects are meshed with the superb performances of Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan, who play the younger and older versions of Pi. Newcomer, Suraj Sharma gives a memorable performance as the teenage Pi stranded on the life boat searching for help. The performance deserves even more credit since Sharma is the only character on-screen for a majority of the movie. Remember people – there is no tiger with him on that boat. Odds are it was a tennis ball on stick standing in for the beast. That makes the performance even more impressive. Irrfan Khan’s performance as the older story telling Pi, although small is great conveying the emotional journey Pi travels up to it’s bittersweet end.
Ang Lee has managed to make a big budget 3D film with an art house feel. Like most of Lee’s film the cinematography is breathtaking and helps convey the beautiful loneliness that Pi must endure. I think the film may have a hard time finding an audience and it’s a shame. The film may seem unrealistic to the general public which may keep some patrons away. I will say when Pi’s story is over, it’s very realistic from a certain point of view. But don’t feel to bad for the cast and crew of Life of Pi. Odds are they’ll hear their names called numerous times over the next couple of months when award nominations are released. Overall I give Life of Pi 3 1/2 potatoes.