An author comes to the Canadian home of an Indian man after being told that this particular individual has a story that will make you believe in God. That’s a pretty tall order, even for Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee. Being charged with the task of bringing to life a most-beloved and best-selling book is by no means an easy feat. Deemed “unfilmable” by its fans and many in the industry, Lee’s visual mastery knows no bounds, and he’s well and truly proved that here in ‘Life of Pi’.
Pi, a young man living in the French quarter of India is suddenly uprooted by his parents to move to Canada along with the animals of the family’s zoo after they fall on hard times. In the midst of their oceanic journey, a severe storm sinks the ship, leaving Pi and ferocious Bengal tiger called Richard Parker the only remaining survivors. Their 227 day adventure stranded at sea is accented by the two species battling over territory aboard a life boat, respect, and a lack of food, water and hope. Pi keeps a journal, narrating the film as he writes their tale with a rapidly diminishing pencil on the pages of a survival manual.
As this story may be the definition of the importance of a journey and not its destination as we, the audience, are aware of Pi’s survival from the beginning, it’s the film’s lack of stakes that leave the viewers' engagement wavering. On paper, the character’s spiritual journey may have sufficed but on screen, its visual adaptation is wanting of suspense, and whether or not Richard Parker is going to eat Pi doesn’t quite cut it.
Lee’s vision and accomplishment here is nothing short of miraculous - the seamless visual effects, cinematography and the most extraordinary CGI tiger (or any creature for that matter) ever committed to film. Yes, this film is in 3D, but unlike most films these days using it as a last-minute dash for cash, this device is used simply to enhance each frame and picturesque setting - and it does so well and with sincere purpose.
Lee’s vision and accomplishment here is nothing short of miraculous.
While the film’s spiritual themes might err on the side of eye-rolling, this spectacular visual feast is one that will stay with you, along with its frustrating - or perhaps brilliant - ambiguous conclusion.
‘Life of Pi’ is a 127 minute visual and allegorical poem about life, survival, faith and the power of companionship. Perhaps best described as the world’s greatest screen-saver, this one is for those who don’t mind a good show over a good story.