Hollywood has always applied special effects to have us believe in aliens, monsters and fantasy worlds. Ang Lee's exhilarating "Life of Pi" has a very simple goal. It wants us to show the jaw-dropping ocean world and to make us believe that the computer-generated Bengal tiger by the odd name of Richard Parker is real. When some critic says "You’ve never seen anything like this in a movie,” almost 90 percent of the time it remains a lie. That's not the case with "Life of Pi." Ang Lee and a team of CGI wizards has cracked the 3-D riddle in this visual banquet.
Yann Martel's novel, "Life of Pi", like the recently released "Cloud Atlas", is considered to be one of the most unfilmable book. Three directors (Manoj Shymalan, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alfonso Cuaron) were previously attached to direct this movie, since its rights were optioned in 2002. The reason it remained unfilmable is obvious: Most of the action takes place on a 27-foot lifeboat inhabited by a teenage Indian boy and a 450-pound Bengal tiger. But after a long while, a right director (Ang Lee) came across the right project at just the right moment, and things so often discordant fall into perfect harmony.
PlotThe visual lushness of the movie starts from the opening shots of Pondicherry, India, a former French colony. The adult Pi (Irrfan Khan), in Canada, tells his remarkable story to a Canadian novelist (Rafe Spall). In Ponidcherry, we are introduced to young Pi (Suraj Sharma), whose name is short for "Piscene," but who changes it because it sounds too much like "pissing." His father Santosh Patel (Adil Hussain) and his mother (Tabu) operates a zoo. Pi also has a elder brother. The story gives us a brief primer of his early life and an exploration of his views of faith, a morphing philosophy that includes elements of Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam.
Pi simply wants to understand "God", so he picks various aspects of different religions to create his own iteration.When hard times hit, Pi's family decide to move to Canada and they travel on a ship, where the zoo's animal occupants, are packed aboard to sell in Canada. The Japanese freighter turtles in a thunderstorm, leaving 17-year-old Pi the sole human survivor as he manages to climb into a lifeboat. In this astonishingly rendered sequence, he also has companions in his 27-foot long boat: an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and that tiger, Richard Parker.
The predatory impulse and the survival instinct of Richard Parker devours the other three animals, except Pi. Then the film follows Pi and Parker making a hallucinatory and faithful trip, for months facing each other, conquering fear and happening upon unexpected wonder.
AnalysisAng Lee, known for movies like 'Brokeback Mountain' , Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon', has transported a literal crouching tiger to a work of entertainment for all-ages. He elegantly takes the viewer through Martel's philosophical line while also using excellently using every modern cinematic tool. Lee also joins the auteurs like Cameron, Scorsese, in reinvigorating the craft of 3-D. He gainfully uses 3-D for its pop effect and also in more magical ways. The ocean sequences in 3-D promises a viewer an ample of charming effects -- the mountainous waves reaching out engulf the ship, the dawn's light in a becalmed ocean, the phosphorescent sea glows under moonbeams and the eye-tricking flying fish scene -- all these never distracts us from the overall experience.
Cinematographer Claudio Miranda approaches the technical challenges with the same commitment of Lee. Filming in one of the world's largest auto-generating wave tank (with a capacity of 1.7 million gallons), they turn their visual restrictions into virtues. The camera bobs gently above and below the water's surface and always finds a compelling angles for the action. Screenwriter David Magee have extracted the book's inherently cinematic qualities. The only problem in the narrative -- which was not there in the novel -- is the more muted finale that doesn't have the powerful emotional punch it should.
The state of the art special effects used to craft Richard Paker is nothing short of amazing. No one viewer can doubt that this is a living, breathing tiger. Even though, Richard Parker is an example of a top-notch computer design, there are also other spectacular instances. For example, a whale that explodes skyward from the ocean during a scene of eerie, breathtaking beauty or the group of meerkats in floating island.
Suraj Sharma, a non-professional actor, makes a terrifically engaging screen debut as Pi. He has underwent considerable weight fluctuations for the role, and he wonderfully manifests Pi's physical sufferings while maintaining a persuasive relationship with his four-legged co-star. Like the book, Pi in the end leaves us puzzling over what we’ve seen and heard, but never makes us doubt the expressive story he is telling. The ending serves as a provocation, about what we need to believe in order to adapt to our own everyday absurd circumstance of finite existence.
"Life of Pi" is a hard story to tell and market. But, Lee's artistic vision makes this relationship as interesting as one between two human beings and uses the lack of dialogue as a strength.I don't know whether this movie will make you believe in God, but it will surely restore your faith in the divine magic of the movies.