Life of Pi is a book that many people considered to be unfilmable, but legendary director Ang Lee has pulled it off. The story follows an Indian boy who is trapped on a life boat with a tiger in the middle of the ocean. It stars Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Rafe Spall as well as some amazing CGI animals. Watch the trailer after the jump and then read my review.
The trailer for Life of Pi explains everything that happens, but the movie still surprises. The simple plot idea of a boy and a tiger alone on a life boat, becomes an exhilarating story of survival and companionship. The movie focuses on Suraj Sharma’s Pi Patel but is narrated by Irrfan Khan’s older Pi. Without the dialogue between Khan and the writer Rafe Spall plays, there wouldn’t be much dialogue and the story would be harder to follow, especially in the third act.
In his first film role, Sharma does a great job as Pi. It is a difficult role because most of his interactions are with a CGI tiger, but Sharma sells it really well. And when he has to interact with other people at the beginning and end of the film, Sharma delivers his lines clearly and with enough emotion that you can see why he was the one who faced the tiger.
The CGI is amazing and the big selling point of this movie. It will win all of the technical awards at the Oscars this year. With the tiger (and other animals to a lesser extent) playing such an important role in the story, Lee smartly realized real animals wouldn’t work. But unless you knew the tiger was CGI, there is no way to tell; the image is flawless. When the tiger goes into the water, it gets wet. When it sleeps, it breathes naturally. They really did a great job of replicating the beasts movements which in turn keeps the movie exciting.
Another major part of the plot is the water and that too is an incredible effect. When their ship hits the storm that sends Pi to the life boat, the waves are massive and powerful. At one point in this scene, Pi swims down to escape the tiger and he sees the sinking ship; completely submerged and brightly lit. That shot summed up the entire movie for me. A boy alone with a tiger, and a movie that pushes the limits of special effects. The 3D actually helped with the water scenes, providing depth and truly capturing the size of the Pacific Ocean. Lee created a 3D film that works but like James Cameron with Avatar, he likely won’t be awarded for it.
I only have one criticism for the movie but it still needs to be addressed. The final scenes of the movie force a religious theme onto the audience that takes away from the amazing survival story of the first hour and a half. Pi tells some men from an insurance company a different story than the one he tells Spall’s writer and instead of leaving you amazed by the story, the movie leaves you questioning which of the stories happened.
I didn’t really need that second story to think about. I can see how in a book it would make more sense and probably follows all the themes the author (Canadian Yann Martel) hoped to convey. I haven’t read the book but have heard they are very different. Either way, Lee did not need to include that last 15-20 minutes that completely unraveled the first story he had built so marvelously.