The first time i read Life of Pi was back in 2002, i was intrigued by the premise of a little boy and a bengal tiger stranded on a boat together after a shipwreck. It was one of those fantasy, adventure novel that i just can not imagine how it would be handled as a movie in a Hollywood. But in the hand of Ang Lee, the movie became a masterpiece of visual presentation of story telling. Right from the opening title sequence, you just know, this is gonna be a visual poetry unlike any other, that can only be delivered by the same hand that delivered Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000).
This review may contain spoilers, proceeds at your own risks.
Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure about a adolescent Indian boy, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel from Pondichery. How he grew up in a zoo with three (or more) religious believes, with infinite amount of interests to everything around him, including towards a Bengal Tiger in the zoo, named Richard Parker. When political upheaval shook the nations, Patel family decided to move abroad, along with the animals which they are selling to south american zoos, the Patels are going on board of a Japanese cargo ship, hoping to find a new life in Canada. But alas, God has other plans for the Patels, the storm hit the ship in the middle of Pacific Ocean, robbed young Pi of his family. He survived on a life boat along with a Zebra, a Hyena, an Orang Utan, and Richard Parker. The film is delivered in a form of a story told by adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a french-canadian writer (Rafe Spall) about his childhood leading up to his youth. This is not a simple survival story about Pi’s adventure on a life boat shared with a Tiger after a shipwreck.
The last third part of the movie challenges the writer as well as, us, as the viewer, we were given the freedom to choose our believe, in this case, paralel to Pi’s story is our believe in God. The ending kinda have a vagueness that reminds me of Inception (2010), we can chose what we want to believe in, that the movie can be about Pi’s spiritual journey and more, or it’s just nothing at all.
David Magee who were the writer for Finding Neverland (2004) was the brilliant mind who successfully adapted the novel into a screenplay, without loosing much integrity of the original source, Magee manages to capture enough emotion without over-dramatizing it.
From the opening credits sequence (the zoo), you’ll know that, this movie is going to be a feast for the eyes. The first third part of the movie deliver India in its colorful signature, not as saccharine as those in actual bollywood movies, but just enough to be identifiable. We will understand how little Pi (played by Gautam Belur, Ayush Tandem at different ages) grew up and what kind of family values instilled within him by his father (Adil Hussain) and his mother (Tabu).
As you can probably tell, the casts are all international actors, which are relatively unknown in the hollywood scene (though we might remember Irrfan Khan earlier this year in The Amazing Spider-Man). Despite of that, the casts acting are not to be doubt, even the new comer Suraj Sharma, who played the titular character Pi (in its youth) manage to deliver a solid performance, transitioning throughout the 2nd third of the movie, both physically and emotionally, embodying the hardship and growth Pi has to endure after the shipwreck. Another cast we should not forget is the Bengal Tiger, Richard Parker, which is mostly made out of CGI, except for a few scene where there are actual Tiger for the stands in, reflects the human actors quality when they interact with CGI and the quality of CGI (which is quite hard to tell apart since they are quite flawless, except parts where there are dodgy movements of the Tiger).
Rhythm and Hues is the visual effects company responsible for all the beautiful VFX in this movie. The company is no stranger to the hollywood films as it has been involved in more than 50 films in the last 15 years, including Hunger Games (2012) and X-Men: First Class (2011). The director of photography is Claudio Miranda, whose work with David Fincher’s on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) was nominated for an Academy Awards. These two are responsible for the amazing visual that are not just beautiful, but really close to a form of Art, in my humble opinion.
As if the visual beauty is not enough, the musical accompaniment enrich the atmosphere of the movie. From the hand of Canadian film composer Mychael Danna, who i know from 500 Days of Summer, come a beautiful score that borrows from hindi heritage and rich of emotion without knocking you in the head. It also features Pi’s Lullaby, which Danna created along with Bombay Jayashri who sang the song in Tamil. My favorite was the chilling theme called The Whale and Back to The World which have these almost gamelan-esque sound in them, it was trully a perfect complement to the scene in the movie.
Life of Pi, is a gem of a movie. Not only it has a poetic aesthetic from the hand of Ang Lee and it has an astounding visual effects throughout the movie, it heightened the use of 3D to another level. After James Cameron’s breakthrough with Avatar, and last year’s Hugo by Scorsese, Ang Lee breaks the paradigm of 3D utilization in films that it was not perceived as a generic, blockbuster-esque spectacle, but instead it heightened the feel and add depth to the movie. I personally have not watch the regular 2D, but i think the use of 3D here manage to evokes more feelings when you are watching the movie. I could not help but wonder how would it feel to watch it in IMAX instead. Ang Lee truly delivers a great life-altering journey, within 127 minutes, adorned with beautiful aesthetics audio-visually, with a solid performance by its casts that embodies the emotions of each character in the book, resulted in a bittersweet journey, that captivates and hypnotizes the audience. This is not just a movie about a young boy in a shipwreck with a tiger. It has so many paralel with beliefs and contains so much wisdom that make me ponder about life itself.
No wonder the movie has generated so many Oscar Buzz despite its mediocre performance at the box office. This might not be a commercial movie, but i think people are missing out if they choose to miss this movie. Anyway, about the Academy Awards, while i am pesimistic the academy gonna give Ang Lee the Oscar he should’ve gotten in 2006 (Brokeback Mountain) or in the Best Actor category since the Suraj Sharma is just too young and still too unpolished. I’d like to believe that this movie deserve nominations (that hopefully will turn into a win) in another categories, such as Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects, Best Score, Best Sound Mixing, and *crosses fingers* Best Picture.
This is a movie that you probably would not want to miss, whether you’ve read the book or not. I think it did the book justice and if you haven’t read the book, you should give it a try too. I’ve read it, and i want to have a re-read soon, and definitely a re-watch, and definitely gonna pre-order the BluRay for this one.
Life of Pi is adapted from Yann Martel’s book of the same name, first released in 2001. The Movie is still showing in both Blitzmegaplex and Cineplex21 in major cities in Indonesia. The estimate release date for the Home Media is in March 2013 (TBA).
All Pictures used in this post are courtesy of IMDb