Life of Pi (2012)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain
Plot: A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor ... a fearsome Bengal tiger.
Genre: Adventure / Drama
Awards: Won 4 Oscars - Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score. Nom. for 7 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, Best Original Song.
Rating: PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
This film was reviewed in the 3D format.
“All of life is an act of letting go but what hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”
Life of Pi is a visual cross between Cameron's Avatar (2009) and Malick's The Tree of Life (2011). That is putting it loosely, but you will get what I mean. It is perhaps the most beautiful looking film I have seen this year, which means not earning Oscar nods for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction will be a travesty.
Adapted from the novel by Yann Martel, Life of Pi takes you on a journey of self-discovery through a myriad of visuals, some so stunning that they put you in some sort of trance. At other times, its human tale of survival can be uplifting. The entire film is an experience, and that experience will be enhanced if you put on 3D glasses.
Along with Avatar and Scorsese's Hugo (2011), two films that have impressed me with their use of 3D so far, Life of Pi gives a whole lot of credibility to the technology and its use, which continues to develop excellently in the hands of those who truly love the art of filmmaking.
Film is a visual medium, and director Ang Lee knows the power of images to inspire and challenge viewers. Life of Pi is as visual a film as you will ever see, working not only to tell an incredible story, but to let itself transcend its narrative (or lack thereof), and transport viewers to the realm of abstraction where faith, philosophy, and the inner self reside.
Told by an adult Pi in a lengthy flashback that makes up the entire second act of the film, the story centers on a teenage Pi whose faith and belief in oneself is put to the ultimate test when he survives a shipwreck in the middle of a stormy Pacific. He is on a lifeboat with some supplies, and yes, a fierce Bengal tiger, among a few other animals on board.
Pi calls his boat 'Pi's Ark'. Pessimists call Martel's novel 'unfilmmable'. How does one even start to shoot a picture in which the bulk of the film plays out in a small raft with a boy and a tiger in the middle of the ocean? The answer: CGI and incredible vision. The irony is that the most unfilmmable of parts become the most powerful and emotionally stirring segments of the entire film.
However, the main issue I have with Ang Lee's film is its flat ending. The third act fails to sustain itself, and comes close to what anyone would call utterly anti-climatic. In this respect, text doesn't translate too well cinematically. Life of Pi is the kind of film that needs to end on an emotional high, even if it means cutting out a chunk of dull exposition that could be important.
The story of Pi is told so well and with utmost clarity that whatever message, be it moral or spiritual, already comes across to viewers in profound ways before the third act. If you are willing to forgive this, Life of Pi remains to be a bold film, worthy of the admiration that it will most certainly obtain throughout its Oscar campaign. It also comes close to being one of the more memorable and compelling efforts of the year. Ang Lee has done it again. Well almost.
Verdict: Ang Lee shows the power of imagery to compel and inspire audiences in this cinematic visual feast that is also an uplifting film about faith and hope.
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