CameronJohnson's Rating of Life of Pi

Cameron's Review of Life of Pi

4 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
Life of Pi

Life of Pi(2012)

"Bye-bye, Miss American Pi, drove my Chevy to the levy, but the levy was dry, and them good ol' boys were drinkin' whisky and rye, singin', 'This'll be the day that I die!'" Overdrawn references to awesome songs aside, I can't tell if this film made me hungry for pie or Indian food, and that's simply because I don't like pie or Indian food, as opposed to the tiger featured in this film, which wants some Indian food that just happens to be some kid named Pi. I've heard of a slice of life and a slice of pie, and this tiger aims to get a slice of the "life of Pi", but hey, I'm still glad the tiger is in this film, not just because cats are awesome, but because it made me think of fun '60s tunes, seeing as how Pi and the Tiger sounds like a '60s pop band. Of course, that doesn't appear to be the only entertaining name attached to this tiger, because Irrfan Khan seems to really be getting into the name Richard Parker lately, seeing as how he was in "The Amazing Spider-Man", which featured a Richard Parker, played by an evidently still alive Campbell Scott, and now he's in this film with a tiger named - you guessed it - Richard Parker. I bet y'all are on the edges of your seats, just waiting for me to make a joke about "Crouching [u]Tiger[/u], Hidden Dragon", but quite frankly, I'm getting so used to Ang Lee doing American films that I'm forgetting about the films he did before "Brokeback Mountain", though that might just be because the film Lee did before "Brokeback" was "Hulk", something that I'm trying so hard to forget that any film by Lee that isn't awesome like "Brokeback" (Yeah, I cried, don't judge me) is just slipping right out of my head. Man, it figures that Ang Lee's big comeback to Asian cinema only takes him to India, and if that's not bad enough, this film, as Indian, or rather, all around Asian as it is, is still an American production, but hey, I'll run with it, because outside of "Hulk", Lee can sure make some good American films, like this one. Still, as tasty as this slice of "Pi" is, there is quite a bit of crust around the edges that isn't too terribly appetizing.

While there was never too great of a chance that this film was going to take on the the guts to just go ahead and let our lead die, any possibility of us facing the end of the titular Piscine "Pi" Patel character is effectively tossed right out the window by this film's core survival story's being framed by glimpses into the future, in which an adult and very much alive Pi tells a writer of his life-changing tale, and such a storytelling decision isn't too terribly problematic, what with Ang Lee's working well enough with atmosphere to keep you compelled, regardless of predictability, which, even then, goes contradicted by a pretty intriguing twist, but would be more forgivable if it wasn't so forced, being all but totally lacking in immediate development and motivation, and even done away with between the development segment and final act. There's not much purpose for this film's frame story, which only serves to slow down momentum by augmenting an objective feel and dissipating any chance of unpredictability, which isn't to say that the flaws in this film's development segment end there, for although no point in this film is less than engaging, the whole first quarter of this film meanders, slam-banging together the, well, "life of Pi" prior to the crash in a fashion that disengages much too often. Much like "Cast Away" and "127 Hours", when the crash sequence finally comes and leaves us alone with Pi's and Richard Parker's struggle for survival, admittedly in a jarring fashion that leaves you to go thrown off by the sudden shift in storytelling structure, the film makes a considerable leap in quality, but never jumps far enough to reach its full potential, going held back by slowness, something that is not as intense as I feared it would be, but can indeed be found, leaving the film to drag its feet just enough to bland things up a smidge, or at least call more to your attention story structure's being repetitious, because when we come to the survival segment that occupies the body of this story, needless to say, dynamicity goes quickly as we observe the day-to-day life of two souls simply trying to get by. Sure, you can definately say that there is slowness and repetition in such other, much better survival dramas as "Cast Away" and "127 Hours", two upstanding films that fell just short of phenomenal because of their natural shortcomings, but what drove those films into decided excellence was their profoundly meditative attention to detail, which audaciously left much fat around the edges in order to reinforce immersive realism and flesh out more genuine human resonance, to where you found yourself observing the very dramatic struggles of Chuck Noland and Aron Ralston on a subjective and more rewarding level, whereas this film feels, well, too focused, being rather superficial in its intensely meditating upon only so many components to the subtly dynamic task of survival, as well as upon something like the interactions between the Pi character and his tiger companion, Richard Parker, which leave you to feel like a third wheel, and as though you're observing everything objectively, thus leaving slowness and repetition in plotting to grow all the more pronounced, while genuine emotional falls short of what it would have been if storytelling was more subjective. The differences in storytelling structure between this film and "Cast Away" and "127 Hours" are subtle, but undeniable, as this film just isn't as human as dramas like those, being focally superficial, as well even thematically superficial, as this film's religious overtones, while worthy to most (I'm agnostic, so I can take it or leave it), do what religion does best and simplifies humanity, not in such an overbearing fashion that the film feels disconcertingly preachy, but certainly enough for subtlety issues to come into play and further distance your should-be profound connection with this film's story. Being a fan of films of this type, and aware through something like "Brokeback Mountain" of Ang Lee's abilities as a dramatic director, I went into this film with high expectations that I would be looking at Lee's return to form, maybe even the best film of 2012, but what I ended up with was a drama that was most definately moving, but with its share of dramatic shortcomings, from a forced frame story, to a slow and repetitious, and not enough subtlety and subjectiveness to compensate, thus leaving this film to fall short of what it could have been. Regardless of this, what the film ultimately is is rewarding, not on the level I was hoping it would reward on, but surely enough for you to be consistently compelled by this film's worthwhile substance, as well as quite a bit of worthwhile technical value.

As far as substance is concerned, the film leaves a bit to be desired, no matter how compelling it is, but when it comes to technical value, this film goes above and beyond expectations, with Bill Westenhofer's, Guillaume Rocheron's, Erik-Jan de Boer's and Donald R. Elliott's visual effects being nothing short of phenomenal, and some of the absolute best of 2012, whether when they're substituting real animals with flawlessly life-filled digital replicas ever so seamlessly, or crafting the environment surrounding our lead Pi character as he struggles to survive with both believably sweeping intricacy and dazzling majesty, to where you get a real feel for this mostly CG-composed world as you are escorted through new and deep reaches of the Uncanny Valley by inventively stellar effects. The technical proficiency of this film's visual effects really do have to be seen to be believed, and even then, you'll still find yourself, time and again, exclaiming to yourself, "How did they do that?", thus the film accels as a marvel of modern technical triumph in the film industry, so much so that technical style actually breathes much life into substance, being matched, if not topped only by such other artistic contributions as Mychael Danna's score, which I am just gonna go ahead and deem the best of 2012, as it is, as Peter Howell of the Toronto Star put it, "intoxicating", being richly diverse, with impressively layered musicality and a passionate marriage between classical sweep and contemporaneous innovativeness, all complimented by powerful soul that leaves this film's score work to keep entertainment value quite high, if not inject into this film a kind of substance that the more effective dramatic parts would be nearly nothing without. Danna's musical touches are phenomenal, and while you can say that about plenty of other 2012 films' score work, this film's score is most deserving of praise at the decided best of 2012, and just that can be said about this film's photography, because with all of my talk about how this film's effects have to be seen in order to be believe, really, I reckon the whole film has to be seen to be believed, at least as far as visual style is concerned, as Claudio Miranda, the budding behemoth of a cinematographer who shot for "Zodiac", "Tron: Legacy" and, perhaps one of the best-looking films of all time, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (Oh man, what would this world be like without David Fincher?), shatters ground yet again and further proves himself to be among today's greatest cinematographers, regardless of his limited experience, delivering photography that is never less than slick in scope play and lushly crisp in definition, with many golden moments in which coloring and lighting is played with in a heart-stoppingly majestic fashion that makes quite a few masterpiece paintings look like daguerreotype photographs. It's hard to fully describe the quality of this film's style, but rest assured that this film is everything you expect and more when it comes to visual, and even musical and technical artistry, and I desperately wish I could say that about the rest of this film, which is too faulty when it comes to substance, though not so much so that you're not compelled thoroughly and consistently, as this film's story is gripping in its dramatic range, brought to life by a colorful script by David Magee, - which is overblown, but delivers on plenty of lively characterization, and even a few twists - and carried by our newcoming lead. Sure, Irrfan Khan is charismatic and all as the adult version of this film's titular lead, and Richard Parker's portrayer probably would have earned himself an honorable mention in Best Supporting Actor categories if he wasn't a tiger and mostly CG, but young newcomer and leading man Suraj Sharma is the heart and soul of this film's substance, being charming as a good-hearted you man, until he finds his faith and humanity challenged by tragedy and danger, sold on you by effectively potent emotional and atmospheric play by Sharma, who isn't quite as phenomenal as such other survival film actors as Tom Hanks, James Franco and, well, Adrien Brody (Say what you will about "Wrecked", but Brody was awesome), but exposes much potential as he carries much of this film's dramatic resonance. Sharma does a lot to keep this film "afloat", if you'll excuse the pun, but quite frankly, the true driving force behind this film is Ang Lee, who doesn't quite do what he ought to to make this film the truly upstanding effort that it could have been, and perhaps would have been if Lee went into this project as inspired as he was when he tackled "Brokeback Mountain", but still does about as much as anyone in making the final product as good as it is, keeping liveliness up, until it finds itself interrupted by tense moments that Lee plays up effectively, though not as much as he effectively plays up dramatic resonance, which would have been heavier if the film was less superficial in some ways, but is still pretty powerful when it needs to be most, gracefully piercing into your investment and extracting bonafide emotional resonance, if not a lump in your throat, or even a tear in your eye, and while moments such as those are relatively few and far between, they stand as particular height in the compellingness that drives this entire film. I'm not gonna lie and say that I'm not at least a little bit disappointed with this film, which could have been more, even though what it ultimately is rewards nevertheless, with outstanding artistry to compliment substance that compels and, at times, very much moves enough for you to walk away having truly enjoyed yourself.

As you come to the shores, you may be a bit disappointed to find that this film isn't as truly excellent as you might have hoped it would be, boasting a disconcertingly forced frame story, as well as a meandering first act that precedes a stronger, but slowly overdrawn and repetitious body, whose subtlety issues with thematic depth help in holding the final product back, though not so much that the film doesn't still carry on as a compelling drama, or at least a marvelous technical piece, with stellar visual effects, great score work and truly phenomenal cinematography that color up substance, which is rich enough in concept, and carried by strong spots in David Magee's lively screenplay, young leading Suraj Sharma's strong performance, and Ang Lee's lively, when not genuinely emotionally impacting direction, thus leaving "Life of Pi" to stand as a generally entertaining and often effective survival drama that isn't quite what I was hoping for, but still pretty moving.

3/5 - Good