*In case you want to hear me discuss Life of Pi in addition to reading what I think of Life of Pi – check our podcast: http://hesawshesawfilm.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/catching-up-if-we-can/
I’ve seen several Ang Lee movies, and I feel like I can say the same things about most of them: really long, visually stunning, sometimes pretentious, sometimes a little boring. This includes Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon, the Eric Bana Hulk, and Brokeback Mountain; and now Life of Pi. The movie Life of Pi is based on the book Life of Pi that was written by Yann Martel in 2001.
The Ang Lee Movie is an accurate translation of the book, with the exception of having Pi relate the story to a writer who was told to look him up to hear an amazing story, “that would make him believe in God.” As the adult Pi begins his story, he explains that his name is Piscine Molitor Patel who was named after a French swimming pool. He continues to reminisce about his childhood and how he changed his name to Pi after the math symbol, because he was tired of being teased as “pissing”. He father owned a zoo, allowing Pi to develop special respect for animals. He was raised as a Hindu, but is introduced to and begins practicing Christianity, Islam and some Judaism. Eventually, his father decides to sell the zoo, and they board a Japanese ship to take the animals to Canada to sell them. There is a great storm, and Pi escapes to a life boat, accompanied by a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, and a hyena. The hyena is responsible for the death of the zebra and the orangutan, and then Richard Parker - a Bengal Tiger – emerges from underneath the tarp of the lifeboat to kill the hyena. Pi, in an attempt to not be killed by the tiger as well, constructs a small raft that he connects to the lifeboat.
The next hour or so of the movie is Pi and Richard Parker surviving and learning to build a cautious trust between them as they exist on the ocean. They encounter many different visually stunning experiences. These include: a school of flying fish, occasional shark attacks, a glowing ocean of algae and a whale, a carnivorous island filled (and I mean filled) with Meerkats, and an incredible thunderstorm. After 227 days lost at sea, Pi and Richard Parker wash up on the shores of Mexico. Pi stumbles out of the boat to lay on the sand, Richard Parker gets out of the boat, stretches, and walks off into the jungle without looking back at Pi. Pi is rescued, and executives from the Japanese shipping company come to interview him about the ship. After he relates his story, they say it is unbelievable. He tells the story again, swapping out a sailor, the ship’s cook, and his mother for the three animals in the boat. After telling this story, he asks which version is preferred (in the book he asks the Japanese shipping executives, in the movie he asks the writer). The version with the animals is preferred, the writer saying it is the better story, and Pi responds; “and so it is with God.”
Lee directs this movie using the same stunning visuals he is known for. If you are going to see it in the theater, see it in 3D – if only for the scenes of Pi and Richard Parker experiencing things during their time in the lifeboat, especially the flying fish sequence. There are parts that are slow; after all, they are in that boat for a long, long time.
· Suraj Sharma plays Pi: this is his first movie, and he does convey a sense of wonder, fear, and hope while struggling to survive. Also, sufficiently heartbreaking when he is devastated that Richard Parker walked away from him so casually without even looking back.
· Irrfan Khan plays the adult Pi retelling the story to the writer. He was most recently featured in The Amazing Spider-Man (which also featured a character called Richard Parker), where he was the ultimate corporate evil baddie. In this, he gives Pi a quiet strength as he retells his story, and is charming and relatable.
· Rafe Spall (son of Timothy of Harry Potter fame) plays the writer. Incidentally, Toby McGuire had been cast as the writer, and shot some of the scenes, but Lee switched to Rafe Spall for a more unknown actor.
· For some reason, Gerard Depardieu has one scene as the ship’s cook. It was weird, off-putting, and I don’t have any idea why he was there. You almost didn’t need that scene at all.
Again, this movie is visually stunning, quietly beautiful, well-acted, and overly long. I expected it to be far more religious than it was, that was what all the marketing lead me to believe. Instead I would classify it as faith-based, and more meditative than overtly religious. Check it out – and if you see it in the theater, see it in 3D.6 out of 10: Gained points for Richard Parker; that tiger was awesome, and anytime he was in any kind of danger or was scared, I got upset. Lost points for the length. Gained points for the visuals – especially the flying fish. Lost points for Depardieu.
Bonus Video 1: In case you forgot Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon.
Bonus Video 2: I actually prefer House of Flying Daggers, and even more so – Hero - to CT/HD. Neither of those are Ang Lee movies, but they have a similar feel to CT/HD.
Bonus Video 3: Interviews!