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Life of Pi, review of the classic movie by Ang Lee

Updated on October 9, 2013

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4 out of 5 stars from 6 ratings of Life of Pi

Life of Pi, the movie, was released in late 2012, and was adapted from the Man Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name by Canadian author Yann Martel. The film has been nominated for several Golden Globe awards and is being hailed as a "visual masterpiece" and "one of the best films of the year".

This was an ambitious project for director Ang Lee (best known for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain). Many said this story could not be filmed, given the technical difficulties of working with dangerous animals, but Lee appears to have pulled it off with style and finesse - and a little CGI magic.


The story follows the adventures of a young Indian boy, known as Pi. Having grown up in a zoo in India, his life is turned upside down when his family decide to emigrate to Canada. Leaving behind everything they know, the family set off on an ocean voyage towards their new life, along with several of their animals from the zoo, which are being sold and exported to the Americas. However, after a violent storm resulting in a dramatic shipwreck Pi finds himself adrift on a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a hyena and a ferocious Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The scene is set for an incredible story of survival. The story explores the instinct to survive, the agony of loss, the moral dilemmas and the role of faith in Pi's amazing journey.

The book

The Movie

The movie is exquisitely shot, starting with beautifully filmed scenes of Pi's childhood in India, depicting the vibrant colours and lively people of his native land. The animal shots move seamlessly between live action and CGI - obviously you could not use a real tiger in this movie, but the special effects are superb and totally convincing. Some of the ocean scenes are utterly breathtaking, for instance a school of flying fish that shoot across the lifeboat, a night-time scene of glowing jellyfish under a vast starlit sky and a leaping whale all stand out as memorable visual treats.

The leading actor is Suraj Sharma, and considering he was an unknown with no previous acting experience, his performance as the 16 year old Pi is fantastic. His portrayal of the anguish and suffering of a boy who has lost everything is heart-breaking, and is a credit to the director. Much of the story is told retrospectively by the adult Pi (played by Irrfan Khan), who is now living in Canada and retelling the story in an interview with an aspiring novelist.

The film is available in both 2D and 3D. While I only watched it in 2D it was still visually very rich and totally absorbing, although I can see that the 3D version would probably add another level of immersion. Some scenes are quite disturbing, and although rated as a PG (parental guidance advised), in my opinion it is not really suitable for young children.

It is often said that films of books that you have read are disappointing. When reading a book we create our own visual images of characters and scenes, we have imagined how people speak and what the scenery looks like - a film will nearly always be different to what we have imagined, Directors usually like to put their own slant on a story, and will miss things out that we may have felt were an important part of the story, leaving us feeling that something has been lost. Life of Pi, however, captured the essence of the book very well. While small parts of the story were left out, the plot and dialogue remains very true to the book, and in some ways the beauty of the filming adds to the rich visual imagery that we may have pictured in our mind's eye. The spiritual message of the story is also conveyed particularly well, without being overdone. I would say that the film is a very successful retelling of the book.

I would have no hesitation in recommending this film to anyone who loves a great story and beautiful cinematography, whether they have read the book or not.


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    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 3 years ago from Southwest England

      Dolores - sounds like we are in complete agreement on this one. I have a hankering to watch the film again now, having just re-read my own review! Thanks for your comment :-)

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 years ago from East Coast, United States

      When I first saw the trailer for Life of Pi, it brought tears to my eyes. Suraj Sharma appeared to be the perfect Pi. This is one of the best screen adaptations ever and one of the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. It's been said that the story will make you believe in God. This is one film that does the book justice.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      thank you suzette - glad you agree :-)

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      Excellent review of this film. I saw the film and read the book and your review is spot on. This is one of my favorites, both movie and book. The cinematography was outstanding in this film also. A very enjoyable read-thank you!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      Thelma Alberts - I would definitely go with reading the book before you watch the film, so you can picture the characters and the story for yourself as you read. However, unlike many film adaptations of books, this film is not a disappointment, I think it is quite faithful to the book and is very well done.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, I hope you enjoy the book - and then the film :)

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      I am starting reading this book. I have no idea that this was filmed when my son gave me this book as a gift for my birthday. Then I accidentally saw the DVD in the shop and I was amazed. I´m thinking now, shall I read the book or watch the film. Thanks for sharing this hub. It sounds a beautiful story.

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      R.Jay - yes that tiger was amazing, lol :)

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 4 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      I own the 3D film and wonder how in the heck they got that tiger to do all this acting? Yep--beautifully filmed in everyway and loved all of it.

    • Sharkye11 profile image

      Jayme Kinsey 4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Great review. I read this book and really enjoyed. I was hesitant at first, because over-hyped books often turn out to be disappointing. I was very worried when they said they would make it into a movie. I am glad they did a good job, and I am looking forward to seeing it now! Thanks!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 4 years ago from Southwest England

      Hope you get to see it RRose, there's always the dvd if you can't get to see it at the cinema. If you enjoyed the book I'm sure you will appreciate the film.

    • Riviera Rose profile image

      Riviera Rose 4 years ago from South of France

      I fear I've missed this, films come and go very fast in France, especially the subtitled rather than dubbed versions. I loved the book and really want to see this on the big screen, will get there somehow!

    • Imogen French profile image

      Imogen French 5 years ago from Southwest England

      Hi Tony, I'm sure you'll enjoy it, it is a fantastic film. I have seen an old film version of Rudyard Kipling's Kim - and seem to remember enjoying that too. thanks for reading

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 5 years ago from Yorkshire

      I've seen trailers for this film and I'm sure I will enjoy it after reading your excellent hub. If you like this you might also like Kipplin's story Kim, also about a young Indian boy.