Life of Pi
A Visual Delight

Life of Pi, Yann Martel’s popular novel about a young boy stranded on a lifeboat with a deadly Bengal tiger, once seemed unfilmable.  Multiple high-profile directors have been attached to the project, but none could figure out how to pull it off.  Oscar-winner Ang Lee once thought the same thing, until he had a revelation: shoot it in 3D!  It’s an unexpected direction to take a drama that doesn’t feature any giant robots or laser beams, but it’s a technique that works to bring the audience right into the center of Pi’s story of survival.

The movie begins with the older Pi being interviewed by a writer who was told he had a remarkable story to tell; one that would make him believe in God.  Now living as a teacher in Canada, Pi recounts how he grew up in a zoo run by his family.  It was a good life, but it would change forever when his family was forced to move across the Ocean.  Taking the animals with them, Pi and his family embark on a long ship voyage that goes horribly wrong.  For reasons that are never explained or known, the ship goes down, taking Pi’s family and most of the animals to the bottom of the sea with it.  After miraculously surviving, Pi finds himself aboard a lone lifeboat…but he is not alone.

Ang Lee directs Life of PiHis companion is Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger accidentally named for the hunter that sold him to the zoo.  With no land in sight and limited resources, Pi must find a way to make nice with his ferocious companion; a companion who will soon be hungry and find that Pi is the only meat around.  Think of it like Castaway, only there is no deserted island and Wilson the volleyball could bite Tom Hanks’ head off at any moment.

As it turns out, the 3D effects and the visuals in general are the best thing about Life of Pi.  The opening credits sequence features some stunning animal photography and the shipwreck sequences, while not as nearly as intense as Titanic or the plane crash in Castaway, features some stunning computer-aided photography.  A particular underwater shot is especially impressive, even if while you are watching it you might wonder why Pi is not being pulled down by the suction created by the ship that Jack told us about when the Titanic was going down.

The stunning visuals don’t end at the shipwreck.  Lee plays up the fantastical elements of the story to create some dazzling visual effects shots using luminescent sea creatures and a beautiful starry night sky. Then there is the mysterious island populated by meerkats, a creature that can’t help but be adorable.

Beyond the visuals, Life of Pi does not stand out as anything spectacular.  Sure, seeing the creative ways in which Pi uses the items at his exposal to survive and the way he “tames” Richard Parker is interesting, but there was not much truly extraordinary in the survival tale.  It also led to a somewhat disappointing, albeit probably realistic, parting of ways for the pair.

Suraj Sharma, who plays the shipwrecked Pi, is quite believable and compelling in the role, as is Irrfan Khan, who plays the older version.  As for Richard Parker, the special effects department deserves a round of praise as it is impossible to tell which scenes were filmed with a real tiger and which used computer animation.  They also did a good job of showing the weariness in his eyes and posture, as hope of survival began to evade the poor tiger.

Anyone looking for something akin to a three-dimensional, moving painting will find everything they are looking for in Life of Pi and even though the story didn’t win me over, it’s clear that this movie represents a big step forward in the evolution of 3D technology.  Let’s face it, it’s here to stay.

Life of Pi is rated PG for “emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.”  There are a lot of scary moments in this movie involving the tiger and the shipwreck may also be too scary for younger viewers.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Life of Pi.