Life of Pi

Director Ang Lee gets viewers lost at sea.

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is more than just a rip-roaring boy’s adventure. Much more, unfortunately.

The movie is an adaptation of an award-winning 2001 novel by Canadian writer Yann Martel. The core of the story concerns a 17-year-old Indian boy named Pi (first-time actor Suraj Sharma, giving a precociously charismatic performance). Pi’s father (Adil Hussain) runs a zoo in Pondicherry. When hard times come, he decides to relocate the family to Canada, along with all of the zoo’s animals. When the freighter transporting them on this journey goes down in a fierce storm, Pi alone survives, and finds himself stuck on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a nasty hyena, and a very large Bengal tiger (whose zoo name, perhaps too eccentrically, is Richard Parker). The hyena makes short work of the zebra and the orangutan; the tiger makes even shorter work of the hyena, and then begins eyeing Pi, who fashions a raft out of the boat’s life preservers in order to maintain a prudent distance. Many spectacular CGI events ensue.

By itself, this material might have made a great movie for kids. However, it’s preceded by a good half hour’s worth of backstory that seems likely to smother the interest of any average action-hungry nipper. There’s also a framing device: The central story is being related by the grown-up Pi (Irfan Khan, of Slumdog Millionaire and The Amazing Spider-Man) to a visiting writer (Rafe Spall, of Prometheus). Khan exudes his usual quiet star power, but Spall has been directed to give one of the most tediously bland performances in recent recall. And the tale they’re hashing over feels like the basis of a very different movie.

We see the young Pi—well-played by Gautam Belur at age five, and by Avush Tandon at 11—growing up in Pondicherry, a onetime French colonial outpost. There’s a little city history, a bit about Pi’s dislike of his given name, Piscine (a watery foreshadowing of things to come), and quite a bit more about his obsession with the nature of God, and the ranging of his religious interest beyond the Hindu faith to Catholicism and Islam. He meets a girl (pretty Shravanthi Sainath), and is just getting something going with her when dad announces the big family trip. Now, with younger viewers possibly on the nod, the central story kicks into gear.

Ang Lee, whose previous films include Brokeback Mountain and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is a director who has never shown much interest in making the same sort of movie twice. Life of Pi is his first excursion into 3D filmmaking, and it’s a work of meticulous digital artistry. The sequence in which the storm sinks the ship on which Pi and his family are traveling is a really frightening evocation of nature’s deadly surging power. And some of the more placid scenes that follow—Pi’s boat becalmed on a mirror-smooth sea, and lit up at night by an armada of bioluminescent jellyfish—have a radiant beauty. As Pi struggles to stay alive, there are also leaping porpoises, a squadron of flying fish (sushi is served!), and a gargantuan whale rocketing up from the depths.     

Equally impressive is Lee’s handling of three film elements well-known to be problematic: child actors (although Sharma is assured and engaging throughout), animals (although some are digital), and shooting on water (even if it is in a huge, custom-built wave tank). Cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Fight Club) negotiates the many long scenes within Pi’s cramped lifeboat with extraordinary skill, and Lee’s preference for long takes and inventive angles over frantic editing and blurry whip-camming is certainly refreshing. Unfortunately, it’s also part of the reason that all of this doesn’t add up to a more rousing picture.

Lee seems more inclined toward contemplating action than thrusting us into it—a little more frenzy actually would have helped. And the pace of the story—which eventually makes its way to an island heavily populated by cute knee-high meerkats, I’m afraid—is too measured to stir much real excitement. Well before Pi’s boat reaches shore, we’re already beginning to feel marooned.

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  • DaveAnthony||

    Well, it has to be better than Ang Lee's incredible hulk movie, right? There aren't many movies worse than that...

  • Tim||

    An entire movie set in a life boat? No thanks.

  • toolkien||

    You'll love this then-

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0037017/

  • CharlotteHaze||

    I LOVE lifeboat movies, the situation creates interesting ethical dilemmas. I recommend 1957's "Abandon Ship", starring Tyrone Power; a synopsis:

    "After their luxury liner is sunk, a group of over twenty survivors take refuge in a life boat made for only nine. Included in the group are an old opera singer, a nuclear physicist, his wife and child, a General, a play-write and his dog, a college professor, a gambler and his mistress, the ship's nurse, and several members of the crew, including the Captain and executive officer. Soon, the captain dies from his injuries. The executive officer must take charge, and as a hurricane approaches, and their food and water run out, he must decide who to put over the side, and who stays and gets a chance at survival."

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050091/

  • CharlotteHaze||

    The full version of Abandon Ship! is available on Youtube, in fact:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Y_YQ_PPq-0

  • R C Dean||

    Not at all, Tim. It sounds like the the lifeboat is the most exciting part, preceded by droning chunks of exposition.

  • Tim||

    Yeah, guess we need to see Suderman's review.

  • Spartacus||

    The book wasn't bad, although it contained a lot of obscure allegory (I still can't figure out what the island episode is supposed to represent). Pi's musings and internal dialogue probably don't translate well to movies.

  • Plisade||

    Think of the island as a statement on the reality of being a vegetarian. Also look at the difference between the instincts to kill and eat.

  • Spartacus||

    I'll go back and take a look at that, thanks.

  • ||

    I still can't figure out what the island episode is supposed to represent

    It represents nothing...it is one of the few things in the book that definitely happened and was not not altered by the unreliable narrator.

    If you really need one then it represents God.

  • ||

    Dang it. The book was excellent, and I had high hopes for the movie.

  • ||

    The book used so many literary tricks for fundamental parts of the plot that I think it is near impossible to film it. At least that is what I thought when I heard it was being made into a movie.

    Also it would have been R and Kurt never would be claiming this might have the potential of being a kids movie.

    Spoilers:

    10 year old Pi watching his mother being killed in front of him then sharing in eating her body would not have gone over very well with the censors.

  • Oislander||

    I enjoyed the book too. I might watch the film to see how they pull it off- the internal struggle/conversation of Pi. But 3-D? CGI? I have a headache just thinking of it. Tin-Tin was murdered by this technology...

  • ||

    When someone says "Award Winning Canadian Novel", I tend to shudder and flee.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    the movie is more than just a rip-roaring boy’s adventure. Much more, unfortunately.

    Let me guess:

    "And the winner of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress is...
    Anthropogenic Global Warming, for Life of Pi!"

    *wild applause*

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    I was a little disappointed in the book. It had potential to explore a lot of interesting ideas, but ended up squandering it and ended on a trite "gotcha!". Adding CGI to that isn't going to improve anything.

  • Cbalducc||

    This seems like an updated version of The Jungle Book to me, with Suraj Sharma playing the role that Sabu did way back in 1942.

  • ||

    The hyena makes short work of the . . . orangutan--

    I had to Google this.

    A hyena is about the size of a very large dog, so definitely a formidable animal to be stranded on a lifeboat with. But an orangutan can weigh up to 200 pounds and has crazy retard strength, vastly more than any human. I believe the orangutan would rip a hyena in half like a phone book.

    --the tiger makes even shorter work of the hyena . . .

    Lions routinely make short of hyenas, so a Bengal tiger definitely would.

  • ||

    Spoilers:

    The Orangutan and Hyena and Tiger are people (other survivors of the boat) not actual animals. Pi imagines them as animals to help cope with the horrors going on in the boat.

  • ||

    The Orangutan and Hyena and Tiger are people (other survivors of the boat) not actual animals. Pi imagines them as animals to help cope with the horrors going on in the boat.

    You're partly right.

    The animals are his mind's manifaestation of his family members, who also survived the sinking. By forcing himself to see them as animals, Pi is able to rationalize killing and eating them in order to survive, which he does with brutal efficiency, owing to his extensive thuggee training.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    So... This sounds entirely like an Ang Lee movie to me.

  • attractions guide||

    I am looking forward this film so long, and now, i have seen this, and i want to say: faith is the life.

  • uythsb||

    Now, with younger viewers possibly on the nod, the central story kicks into gear.

  • Knoss||

  • nikea||

    And some of the more placid scenes that http://www.nikefootballcleatstrade.com/ follow—Pi’s boat becalmed on a mirror-smooth sea, and lit up at night by an armada of bioluminescent jellyfish—have a radiant beauty. As Pi struggles to stay alive, there are also leaping porpoises, a squadron of flying fish (sushi is served!), and a http://www.drdrebeatsbydreau.com/ gargantuan whale rocketing up from the depths.

  • uythsb||

    Life of Pi
    it is so popular and great post.

  • nikea||

    We have been combing through classified and unclassified documents and have tough questions about State Department threat assessments and decision-making on Benghazi. This requires a public http://www.cheapbeatsbydreonau.com/ appearance by the Secretary of State herself.

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