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Life of Pi - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Life of Pi
Directing: A
Acting: A
Writing: A
Cinematography: A
Editing: B+
Special Effects: A+

What's this crap about all these people saying Yann Martel's wonderful 2001 novel Life of Pi was supposed to be "unfilmable"? Oh, ye of little faith! In the right hands, pretty much any novel is filmable. It was still a relief, honestly, to learn that the film adaptation of this novel would be directed by Ang Lee, who is easily one of most skilled directors alive today. The script writer (Finding Neverland's David Magee) is almost incidental. In any case, this is easily one of the most seamless film adaptations of a novel ever made.

Granted, I might feel at least slightly different had I read the novel more recently, but it's been several years. I think this is for the best, as it allows for judging the movie on its own terms. Truly, this movie is not just for fans of the book. And honestly, the movie spells things out a little more in the end than the book did, but that's okay. It still works, and it works incredibly well.

I just don't get why more people don't go to movies like this. I felt the same way about last year's stupendous Hugo, which did not get near as much box office return as it deserved. So far, it looks as though Life of Pi will fare similarly, with modest success at best. And both are films that, unlike most, are absolutely enhanced by the viewing of them in 3-D in a movie theatre.

Ang Lee proves to be one of the few directors who knows how to make a 3-D movie that places us inside the world of the film rather than using it as a gimmick. In Life of Pi, he combines it with stunning special effects that render a unique world of vast imagination, color, and occasionally even sparkle. This isn't a fairy tale exactly, but imagination is very much an important part of the story, as you'll see at its end. Hell, a boy adrift at sea for countless weeks beginning to lose his mind is enough to expand the bounds of usual reality.

This isn't your average castaway story, however. This is the story of teenage Pi (an amazing Suraj Sharma, in his feature debut -- but as far as I'm concerned Oscar-worthy), sole survivor of a shipwreck that takes his entire family. Sole survivor, that is, except for several animals from the zoo his father owned, which find their way on the life boat as well. So much for taking the animals to Canada to be sold so the family can start a new life.

One of these animal stowaways happens to be an adult Bengal tiger, formerly the zoo's prized possession back in India. With a tiger on board, there isn't room for everyone, and sooner than later, it's just the boy and the tiger, engaged in a peculiar breed of power struggle.

This takes up the bulk of the story: a boy and a tiger, set adrift at sea in a lifeboat. Aside from Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi, who seems to get more screen time than I remember him getting as an adult in the book, all the other parts are quite small and brief. These are some relatively big names -- Tabu; Gérard Depardieu -- seen in the opening title sequence (which itself is transporting), and yet they disappear almost as soon as they appear.

I am reminded of Tom Hanks in Cast Away, except instead of Wilson the Volleyball, we get Richard Parker the tiger. There's an over-arching metaphor here, though, which I won't give away, that puts Life of Pi in a different, and better, category.

Perhaps most importantly, Life of Pi has real respect for the realities of animal behavior. I spoke to someone before seeing this who assumed the tiger talks. No, this isn't that kind of movie. In fact, although it's absolutely magical, the animals here are grounded in a reality most unusual in the movies. Richard Parker the tiger behaves just like a tiger, and thus is always very dangerous, a potential threat to Pi's very life, which in turn forces his ingenuity.

And even before the shipwreck, during scenes when we learn of Pi's younger childhood growing up in the zoo, the entire movie is shot with a consistently stunning clarity, and regularly jaw-dropping beauty. More times than I could count, there was a shot I would love to freeze for a still that I could frame and hang on my wall.

If I had any single nitpick, it would be the occasional editing technique of superimposing certain objects in the previous scenes over the start of the next -- such as the bars of an animal cage being the last thing to disappear during the transition. There's nothing inherently wrong with this, but I found it distracting. That said, there's not a single other part of this movie that I would change; it might very well be the best movie of the year.

Suraj Sharma shares an amazing experience/story with a Bengal tiger in LIFE OF PI.

Overall: A
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