‘Life of Pi’ (2012): not as good as actual pie.

19 Jan

Life of Pi posterI never thought I’d see the day when I’m actually praising a movie for its 3D. But Life of Pi has done it; it has single-handedly crushed most arguments I had against three-dimensional film with its gorgeous visuals, lifelike animation and wonderful special effects. As a result, I look at this film as a kind of “screw you” for all 3D haters out there, and because of this I don’t know whether to love it or loathe it. It’s as if Life of Pi was made with the specific intention of annoying me. 

In this film adaptation of Yann Martel’s Boeke Prize-winning novel, Ang Lee (of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain fame/infamy) directs the story of a young Indian boy called Pi (Suraj Sharma), whose family owns a circus in Puducherry. Financial pressures force them to move, and at the age of 16 he boards a freight ship to Canada, along with his father, mother and elder brother. During the night, a storm sinks the shop, and Pi boards a lifeboat in the company of an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger, and drama ensues!

Life of Pi really excels in the visual department – this is an aesthetically stunning film, certainly the best looking film I’ve seen in 2012, and a runner for one of the most irresistibly gorgeous movies I’ve ever watched. The CGI is flawless: I’m not sure how many of the fauna in this film are real, if any, as one couldn’t possibly sit in a dinghy with a tiger, but regardless the animation is superb. From the opening montage of zoo animals at play, to the catastrophic sinking, this film is a sculpted diamond among the deluge of muddy, darkened 3D films that are currently being flung at us. The 3D adds immersion, similar to James Cameron’s Avatar, but the film remains bright, colourful and simply a joy to watch.

This is a strange film in that the most interesting parts are the bits in which very little actually happens. The quiet, surreal one-on-ones with Richard Parker (the tiger – they explain it, don’t worry) are both artistic and philosophical; this film blurs the line that separates man from beast, as well as boasting quasi-religious undertones that neither preach nor dictate. Life of Pi posits questions without answering them, and as a philosophy student I adore it for that! It is in these scenes that Sharma truly shines. He gives a stunning performance, and as he is pretty much the only actor for two thirds of the film, he steals the show, almost by default.

Much silenced contemplation occurs in this movie.

Much silenced contemplation occurs in this movie.

However, the film contains this irritating framing device which is as awkward as it is unnecessary. Almost the entirety of the movie is a flashback, as the now aged Pi recounts his nautical tale to a writer as a source of literary inspiration. This happens in the novel too, but here is something that directors and screenwriters need to know: not everything that works in a book will successfully transfer to the big screen. It just doesn’t work that well, and is painfully cheesy at times. The ending is infuriating; it adds extra clarity that nobody asked for, and just feels like a syrupy, tacky and pointless addition that just reeks of Hollywood. Uncool.

Still, the film is definitely worth seeing purely for the marvellous imagery. Life of Pi is a visually stunning movie which has an annoying framing device and goes on about fifteen minutes too long, but philosophically speculates enough to redeem itself. Consider it a beautiful, immaculate train whose driver (distracted by deep theological thought) pulls the break a bit too late, thus crashing into the station and wounding, but not quite killing, everyone on board. Plot twist… ALL THE PEOPLE ON BOARD ARE ANIMALS!

Simon says: a beautiful portrait hung in a frame made of shit.

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