I had a copy of the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel a couple of years back. As soon as I saw the trailer for Ang Lee's movie (2012) based on the book I regretted parting with the book before taking the chance to read it. The movie was a beautiful spectacle to behold, and had many layers left to personal interpretation.
In Canada, a writer (Rafe Spall) visits the Indian storyteller Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) and asks him to tell his life story. Pi tells the story of his childhood in Pondicherry, India, and the origins of his peculiar nickname. One day, his father, a zoo owner, explains that the municipality is no longer supporting the zoo and he has hence decided to move to Canada, where the animals the family owns would be sold. They board a Japanese cargo ship with the animals and out of the blue, there is a storm, following by a shipwrecking. 16-year-old Pi (Suraj Sharma) survives in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a male Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. They are adrift in the Pacific Ocean, with the aggressive hyena and Richard Parker getting hungry. Pi needs to find a way to survive.
Life of Pi is, without question, a work of art. The colors are so vivid, the CGI work is remarkable, the art direction is fantastic, and the locations where the film was shot are beautiful. A lot of the movie takes place at sea and to get many of these shots blue screens were probably used, but it's so well integrated that you would hardly guess they were anywhere near land. There's some exceptional artistic photography where the camera is looking up through some very still water, and we don't realize it until a person swims by, causing some ripples in the water surface which distort the picturesque architecture shot we are viewing. Life of Pi is absolutely gorgeous to behold. Normally, I don't care for 3D movies, but similar to Hugo, I imagine this would be extraordinary to see in 3D since it was filmed in 3D by a master film maker.
The layers in Life of Pi will likely spark some interesting philosophical debates. Early on we are presented with the idea of the importance of storytelling. Pi is a religious character who follows three religions; Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Each of these religions have their own set of tales and fables used to spread the teachings and illustrate the beliefs of their respective theology. Pi believes that each of the stories might simply be aspects of a greater, universal story of God and of love. Truth is brought into question in that authentically objective truth isn't usually possible. There can be different kinds of truth that all hint at a broader understanding of things; things can be factually true, emotionally true, or even spiritually true. Even if you ignore the philosophical and theological implication of Life of Pi and simply take it at face value as a tale about a young man on a lifeboat with a huge tiger, it's still fascinating story.
Pi was a great character. He leads a fascinating life and has interesting experiences that make him the person he is. He's a very believable character. Richard Parker is also an interesting character. Yes, he's a feral tiger and it is not ever suggested that he is anything other than that; but giving the tiger a name makes the tiger more of a character than one would expect. They are not friends by any means, they are in fact nemeses. Their relationship is that of conflict and necessity which is enthralling since one of them is a 480 pound feral predator and the other is a skinny vegetarian. I can't think of another story that has this kind of a relationship in it and not once did this spiral downward into an Old Yeller boy-and-his-tiger sort of cheesy story.
A story about a boy stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger could get really boring, but Life of Pi remains interesting on many levels and has absolutely stunning visuals. This movie shows us that you can have a movie that uses state of the art special effects technology to help tell a good story without being a loud, boisterous CGI action fest. It's darker than you would expect for a PG movie, and I don't imagine many 10-year-olds are going to be all that captivated by it. While not actually a religious movie, I think it touched on spirituality much better than movies which go out of their way to be a religiously based film. Life of Pi has an interesting ending that is left to personal interpretation much like Inception, and will likely spark some interesting discussion afterwards. I think Life of Pi is worth owning on Blu-Ray. I intend to get it in 3D so I can see some outstanding 3D effects done by a masterful director.
What is your favorite special effects-intensive movie? Comment below and tell me all about it!