Director: Ang Lee
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu
Pi Patel (Khan) has an extraordinary tale of survival and faith to tell. Some may even find it too hard to believe. He sits down with a writer (Spall) and goes back to his to childhood and how he received the nickname Pi. He was named "Piscine" after a French swimming pool his parents attended and loved. He was horribly teased in school and called "Pissin' Patel". He promptly shorted it to Pi, like the math symbol, after he had enough of the taunting. He grew up in a strict Hindi home, but learned Christianity and Islam out of personal intrigue. His father was not impressed by the idea of him following three different religions. Pi and his family lived on a zoo and botanical gardens. He found a curiosity in the animals, especially a bengal tiger named Richard Parker
Pi's father breaks the news to the family that they must give up their life in India and move to Canada. They board a Japanese freight ship to bring all of the animals with them to Canada in order to sell them. A heavy storm approaches with fatal results. Pi (Sharma) is the only one that gets to a lifeboat in time and miraculously escapes just in time. The other members of the ship, the animals, and Pi's family all perish as the ship sinks. After the storm subsides, Pi comes to and realizes he is not alone on the small lifeboat. A zebra, hyena, orangutan, and Richard Parker the bengal tiger have all survived and are present on small boat with Pi in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi's belief in God is severely tested after losing his whole family and not knowing if he will survive against the tiger and the effects of Mother Nature.
Many people thought that the film adaption of Yann Martel's book was simply impossible. Many movies where you have one actor alone in the middle of nowhere trying to survive can be tricky. How do you keep the story going and moving forward? How do you keep the audience interested? Add in the fact that you have a tiger and are in the middle of the ocean, and you have a recipe for disaster. The movie could look all too CGI and fake and you would lose half the audience.
Ang Lee is the only director I can think of that could capture this story. When you watch any of Lee's previous movies, you will notice his great attention to capturing nature and how it affects his characters. Among the themes of Life of Pi are nature and survival. Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda use 3D and digital effects so realistically that you forget you are watching a 3D movie. It is not jarring or jokey. The 3D enhances the storm and ocean by adding a depth and dimension without feeling like things are flying in your face. I have read that the Richard Parker is mainly CGI, but a couple of shots are of a real tiger. This may be one of the best uses of a CGI animal. The effects team seamlessly goes between the CGI and real tiger with no interruption. It was only until the ending that I felt like I was watching a CGI effect, and I normally grow tired of CGI within the first twenty minutes of a movie.
Life of Pi is bar none one of the most beautiful movies of the year. I encourage people to pay the few dollars extra to see it in 3D as it enhances the experience without it feeling gimmicky. When movies are specifically made for 3D and not converted post-production, the 3D feels far more effective and part of the director's vision. I do not feel like it is part of some studio ploy to get more money. Suraj Sharma is remarkable as the younger Pi. Knowing that this is his first movie and that it was shot in sequence is all the more fascinating. Ang Lee has created another visual feast that stands out as one of his best movies.
RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5 stars)