Life of Pi

6 Jun

life of pi

 

Director: Ang Lee

Writers: Yann Martel (novel), David Magee (screenplay)

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain

Motion Picture Rating: PG

Runtime: 127 minutes

 

I knew about the castaway Indian boy in the lifeboat with the Bengal tiger. I remembered the book by Yann Martel although I had never read it. The film trailer caught my eye, but I did not see Ang Lee’s Oscar winner at the cinema. Something held me back from the Life of Pi. I was partly worried about overdosing on cod philosophy and whimsy – too many quaint Indian proverbs, ruminations on God and the like. I also struggled with the idea that lifeboat plus boy plus tiger could hold my attention for 200 pages or for 2 hours. In hindsight, I was wrong.

The start to this film, that tracks the early days of lead character Pi, is quirky in that Jean-Pierre Jeunet way. Think Amelie of the East India Company and you’re almost there. It is sweetly innocent and well shot and acts as a nice preamble to the main event. We also get our first glimpse of the CGI animals that inhabit the zoo of Pi’s family and it is immediately clear that the computer designers and animators are on very rare form.

The CGI work in this film is what sets it apart. The huge number of programmers and technicians has collectively delivered a wonderful spectacle and a work of art. It is stunning to look at. The storm and the capsize of the cargo ship, that forces Pi on to that lifeboat, are breath-taking pieces of cinema. As 90% or more of the film was shot against blue screens, and in one large indoor tank, the goals of the film-makers seem reckless and yet their achievements are truly something to behold. There are many beautiful and fantastic shots in the film and the final ‘storm of God’ is both moving and draining (in keeping with Pi’s journey).

Whilst I was awed by the spectacle of Life of Pi and kept entertained by it, I have a few minor criticisms. There is definitely a lull in proceedings for ca. 20 minutes around half-way. Also, the 3D element, that requires contrived set-ups to be engineered whereby animals often jump towards camera, is annoying. I thoroughly enjoyed my 2D experience and do not understand why Ang Lee felt that he had to add 3D to the already complex mix.

Suraj Sharma playing Pi is wonderful. How he managed to act so convincingly against blue screens and on his own in that tank dumfounds me somewhat. He carries the film on his slim shoulders and along with the technicians makes you forget that the tiger and other animals are computer generated. It is another achievement in a rightly lauded film. The story is simple, probably a little too like an Aesop fable for its own good, but the eventual questions raised, about the importance of any form of belief, are actually handled with restraint. Unsurprisingly for an Ang Lee film this Life of Pi is a beautiful, charming and captivating piece of work.

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