Monday Movie Review: Life of Pi (3D)

James Cameron and Martin Scorsese, step aside please. Your, to date, most artistic and effective use of 3D has just been topped by acclaimed director Ang Lee with his Life of Pi adaptation. Yes, Lee has created the most strikingly beautiful 3D movie of 2012... if not to date. This said, while it’s easy to lose yourself in the dream-like visuals, Life of Pi – which is nominated for 11 Academy Awards this year – is surprisingly not as emotionally affecting as it promises to be. You expect to be blubbing at the end and yet you’re left scratching your head over what exactly the film is trying to say.

Based on Yann Martel’s award-winning novel, Life of Pi is a fantasy-infused adventure that follows the title character (Irrfan Khan) as he recounts his unusual biography to a writer (Rafe Spall) on the hunt for a life-changing tale. It starts out cutesy and idiosyncratic, depicting Pi’s childhood at an Indian zoo and his fascination with God and the world’s major faiths. Things take a darker turn though when 16 year old Pi (Suraj Sharma) survives a shipwreck and has to share a life raft for 227 days with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Given its confined setting and miniscule cast from this point, Life of Pi could have quickly grown tedious. And although its pacing feels a bit off towards the end, the movie manages to never bore. Mixing humour and tragedy, successes and frustrations, Life of Pi emerges as an engaging survival tale with Pi and Richard Parker coming to accept one another as their supplies dwindle. Of course, buying into this unbelievable situation as a viewer would be impossible if it weren’t for a few things.

The first: Acting newcomer Sharma does an outstanding job as the teenage Pi, deftly handling the responsibility of carrying the film on his own for long stretches of screen time. His Pi is likeably sensitive, smart and admirable in terms of his commitment to survive.

Then there’s the top-notch CGI that makes Richard Parker such a convincing, emotive creation. It faces some stiff competition at this year’s Academy Awards, but for making an animal – as opposed to an inanimate object – appear so “real,” Life of Pi deserves the Best Visual Effects Oscar if nothing else.

In fact, its visuals are arguably the strongest aspect of Life of Pi. Once Pi clambers onto the life raft and the devastating storm is over, the cinematography shifts into full fantasy mode to match the surreal nature of Pi’s experiences. Heightened colours. Crystal clear, reflective water. It’s like being submerged in an impressionist painting, and it’s unforgettable. Pi’s discovery of a mysterious island is especially jaw-dropping.

It’s a pity that thematically Life of Pi isn’t as powerful as it is visually. It scatters ideas like a farmer sowing seeds but they’re never really given time to germinate. We’re too busy watching Pi try to tame and tend to Richard Parker. There’s even a big “reveal” at the end of the film, throwing a completely different perspective on events. And while this is apparently handled with a lot less ambiguity than in the book (which I haven’t read), it doesn’t produce a strong, gratifying sense of enlightenment. Which is kind of expected with this kind of material.

Perhaps I’m just a jaded critic who has watched too many movies. Other audience members may get more of an intellectual and emotional reward from the film, and I’m interested to hear if you did. One thing is for certain though, the visual splendour of Life of Pi – noticeably enhanced in 3D – makes the film well worth experiencing on the big screen.

3.5 stars out of 5.


Heinrich said…
I agree with you completely, the film tends to overwhelm you with the visuals and you never really have time to chew on the theme and premise of it all.

Having read the book there are times when you would close the covers and sit quietly to think about an idea that presents itself. As Pi says in the beginning; all you can do is listen to the story, you need to make up your own mind on what to believe.

Perhaps its because you have to review the movie you don't get to sit and think about the ideas after the fact, you simply think about the movie itself. Or maybe read the book if you want that feeling enlightenment and chalk the movie up as a pretty adventure title with some cool ideas.
TheHakar-G said…
I'd give it a 7 out of 10, coz the film may illustrate the themes and make them visually appealing, but quite honestly the story of the film has been done to death. Maybe it's my agnostic view point on the world where the concept of God in films is incredibly dull and boring. However it is executed well, and its got great acting and visuals and a beautiful score. and the 3D is probably the best i've ever seen. So yeah that counts for something. If you want a beautiful film which really showed themes about humanity and what what, then watch BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.
Pfangirl said…
Hey Heinrich, thanks for commenting. I plan to definitely read the book so it will be interesting to compare the 2 experiences.
Pfangirl said…
Thanks for commenting, Dayakar. I have seen Beasts of the Southern Wild. It was beautiful and moving. I'm holding thumbs for the young actress - she was quite spectacular.

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