In Your's Review of Life of Pi
Life of Pi(2012)
A good looking and well made fantasy-fiction, tempered by oppressive storytelling, ridiculous special effects and a bittersweet ending that turns the story on its head.
Life of Pi is about a Canadian Hindi family, in particular a son called Pi (Suraj Sharma), so christened after his barrel-chested uncle's favorite Parisian swimming pool. Pi is so harshly chided for this curse that he devises a clever public stunt to forever change his classmate's perception of him. Later, he is introduced to several major religions through his family's travels, decides he likes them all, and takes on attributes from each of them.
As a teenager, he falls in love with a girl from a dance class that he aides in, and it's not surprising that she reciprocates. Open-minded, with a stubborn sense of compassion that brings him to harsh odds with his loving but godless father, Pi is a likable scamp. He narrates his tale in the present-day to a disillusioned novelist (Rafe Spall), who is searching for inspiration after literally throwing away the manuscript for his last book.
The three actors who play Pi do an excellent job, and the early portions recounting his childhood are fascinating, tightly spaced and probably my favorite part of the movie. Ang Lee is a skilled director and does a proper job setting a tone of whimsy undercut by brutal reality, crystallized when Pi is punished by his father for attempting to feed a beautiful Bengal tiger. "There is no emotion in that animals eyes, you are just seeing your own emotions reflected back at you!"
The selling point of the movie is an unexpected journey that almost costs Pi his life. After his family falls on hard times and dad makes the decision to move the zoo to Winnipeg, a violent storm sinks the cargo ship they are guests aboard and Pi is left afloat on stormy seas in a modest lifeboat with some drugged and terrified animals, and... well, that's when things start to get a little bombastic. I liked that Life of Pi didn't turn into the cliche "lost at sea" movie, since it is told in past tense and we know that Pi survives. Instead we are taken along on Pi's physical and spiritual journey, we watch him call on personal experience and watch as he is broken and reshaped by the elements. But how much of it is actually true?
The movie makes use of some heavy duty special effects. Some of them work, drawing you into the inherent vicariousness of Pi's story. These are often stunning environmental shots, vistas that blend heaven and earth to make Pi seem to float in space. There is a jaw-dropping hallucination, brought on by starvation, that I had a feeling I wasn't stoned enough for. The movie deserves credit for its imagery. But it all gets distracting and even silly after a while. Each and every animal Pi encounters is a special effect, and I had a hard time feeling concerned for Pi's safety as he struggles with being trapped in a lifeboat with a rabid hyena or said Bengal tiger or a swarm of razor-sharp flying fish because I knew it wasn't really happening. Call me jaded, but some of it just looked sloppy and fake. I thought CGI was supposed to help tell a story, not tell the damn story.
This robbed much of the movie of gravitas for me. I hated the scene right after the shipwreck when Pi started taking on passengers. For a long time the movie becomes a loud series of jump-scares, with something flying straight at the screen followed by a predictable eardrum-obliterating sound, like an animal roar or human scream. Combined with the mandatory 3D it started to give me a headache. I became constantly distracted by audience members shouting obscenities and bouncing out of their chairs in fright every two minutes. It made it hard to concentrate on taking the story seriously. Why do people act like this? Don't they realize it is just a projection and not actually happening?
Regardless, Life of Pi is full of great moments and strong writing, and isn't a bad movie by any means. There is some deeply moody and disturbing stuff here, and I'm a little shocked at the film's PG rating-- Seeing it so late into its release I can only imagine what a crowded theater full of children would have been like. At least they will get a strong young role-model out of it, not to mention a disturbingly raw message about the power of shock and grief over personal perspective.
So I guess what it comes down to is, do I think this movie should have been adapted? I haven't read the book, but a movie should stand on its own, and it sort of does, though it stumbles a bit. I imagine it would be better viewed on a smaller HD screen without the 3D layer, where it doesn't feel like a force-fed special-effects extravaganza on the level of Avatar. I did like the shot of the hippo fighting a school of sharks as the ship sank in the background. That was some cool shit. I'd like to know more about what happened to that hippo.