Movie Reviews: Life of Pi
Backed by top-tier 3-D technology, Ang Lee delivers the best possible adaptation that could have ever been made of a book once thought to be unfilmable.
Title: Life of Pi
Production: Fox 2000 Pictures
Director: Ang Lee
Released: 11/21/2012 (theaters)
Runtime: 127 minutes
Age Rating: 13+ (mild violence, dark or disturbing thematic elements)
Summary: An unnamed author visits an Indian man named Pi Patel, who claims to have a story that would make him believe in God, with the intention of allowing the author to use the story for his next book. Pi begins to tell him of his life's story: He was born Piscine Molitor Patel, named for a French swimming pool, and is the son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry, India. When governmental shifts sweep through India, the family sells their animals and sets sail on a Japanese cargo ship to move to Canada. However, during the voyage, a monstrous storm rocks the ship, which begins to sink for reasons unknown to Pi. He is ushered onto a lifeboat at the last possible moment, and soon even greater problems arise. The lifeboat's other inhabitants are an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a Bengal tiger. Pi must use all of his cunning, intellect, and faith to make it through his journey alive.
The Good: May be one of the most beautiful films ever made; wonderful CGI and 3-D; great acting; consistently faithful to the original novel
The Bad: Skimps a little bit on the pre-lifeboat material
The Ugly: It should have been longer! I want more!
When I first caught wind of this movie, I was legitimately worried. After all, one of my favorite books was being put into the hands of the very hit-or-miss director Ang Lee. I dreaded this film. And when it finally came out in theaters, I had to get a ticket and see it on day one. Because, you know, I couldn't live with myself if I didn't. And I am so, so happy to report that it was a spectacular film. Perhaps even one of the best films of 2012. Of course, when I say "perhaps," I secretly mean "definitely." This, folks, is Life of Pi.
First and foremost, this is a damn beautiful film. The colors are vivid, the shots are breathtaking, the costumes and make-up are true-to-life, and the scenery is to die for. Some of the wide-angle shots of the lifeboat just sitting on the ocean rank among the most gorgeous things I've ever seen in my life (in movies, anyway). If I had to say which emotions these shots convey, it would be a toss-up between "awe" and "I just lost control of my bowels." Are those the same thing? Because they're probably the same thing. If this movie doesn't amaze you with its visual splendor, you're either very hard to impress or you just weren't watching.
Part of the film's visual mastery is due, in no small part, to the state-of-the-art CGI imagery and the 3-D effects. In 90% of the shots he's in, Richard Parker (the tiger) is comprised entirely of pixels and wire frames, but you'd have a hard time telling. It looks like an honest-to-goodness living, breathing tiger. And it's not just him--most of the animals present in the film are CGI, and likewise, you'd probably never have known if I didn't just tell you. There's also a lot of CGI present in the storm effects, the ocean's coloration and reflections, the sky, and just about everywhere else. And I can count the number of times where I realized I was looking at something fake on one hand. The same amount of love and attention was given to the film's 3-D effects, too! Mostly, it's used to increase the film's immersion factor by about 500-fold, but when it's used for throwing stuff in your face, you'll probably have to fight hard to resist the urge to duck. I know I did.
A lot of credit must also be given to the actors, who deliver powerful performances, even if they only get one or two lines. Obviously, I have to mention the wonderful performance by Suraj Sharma, who bears the titanic responsibility of playing teenage Pi. More than two-thirds of the movie rests on his shoulders, and he nails it. Irrfan Khan plays the modern-day Pi, now in his 50s living in Canada, and he must also carry a great emotional range, from wistful nostalgia to heart-wrenching grief, and I bought every second of it. Adil Hussain and Tabu, who play Pi's father and mother respectively, also give powerful performances despite their brief screentime presences. Even Gerard Depardieu makes a bit of a cameo, and he is deliciously unlikable as the ship's curmudgeonly cook. All in all, there was not a single bad performance in the film, and there were a ton of fantastic ones.
Finally, and most importantly (to me), the vast majority of the story remains intact. There were some minor omissions (the fellow castaway incident, Pi learning how to get fresh water on the sea, learning how to fish, etc.), but that comes with the territory. What matters is that every scene that was important for the story to work is present and accounted for. So if you've already read the book, you will be perfectly content. Well, maybe not "perfectly"...
My only complaint with the film is that it's just too short for me. Two hours is plenty for most films, but with a novel as rich with details and character background as "Life of Pi," I was hoping for another 20 minutes or so, primarily of Pi's life in India. The fact that Pi follows three separate religions was given much more time and attention in the novel, and I was hoping that the film would devote just as much. This really is nothing more than a nitpick, but I felt it needed to be said. The film is already over two hours, so I guess it's a bit much to beg for more.
At the end of the day, though, Life of Pi is an exceedingly wonderful film that no self-respecting moviegoer should skip out on. Whether you're looking for a deeply-moving film or you just want pretty pictures to look at for an afternoon, this movie's got the best of both worlds. I wholeheartedly recommend that you shell out the extra bucks for the 3-D version, as well, because it's probably the best 3-D experience you'll have all year (or even in the next few years). Go see it. Now.
Final Score: 10 out of 10. With top-of-the-line visuals, an extremely strong story to present, and convincing performances from all the actors, Life of Pi is a powerful and heartfelt film you won't easily forget.