"Life of Pi" (2012)

Life of Pi (2012)
Directed by: Ang Lee
Running time: 127 minutes

So, the Oscar nominations are out! That’s exciting, and I clearly have a lot of movies to catch up on in the Best Picture category. Also, I love that Seth Macfarlane is hosting the event, his nominations announcements were quite enjoyable and far better than the stale humour that the Academy Awards is privy to. Anyway, on to reviewing one of the Best Picture nominees that also happens to be the film adaptation of the novel that I hate most in my entire history of reading!

Now Showing this week is Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee and based off the novel of the same name by Yann Martel. It follows the incredible (I mean that in the way that the story is not credible, not that it is sheer brilliance) tale of an Indian teenager named Pi whose family was travelling across the ocean with all the animals from their zoo in India, heading to Canada. The ship they are travelling on inexplicably sinks and Pi ends up alone on a life boat with only a zebra with a broken leg, an orangutan, a hyena and a large Bengal tiger named Richard Parker for company.

As I previously stated, the original novel by Yann Martel is my least favourite book of all time. I read it eight years ago when I was fifteen, and it was a story that sounded really interesting but was the most boring read I have ever come across and I’ve read the entirety of Lord of the Rings, stupid songs and all! Martel’s book was just so slow, with barely anything actually happening for it’s duration. Beginning with a ramble about the thyroid glands of three-toed sloths, transitioning into the most boring ship wreck sequence I’ve ever read (I believe it was expressed with a single sentence: “The ship sank.”), and then three hundred pages of Pi saying variations of “lovely morning/how are you?/look, I caught a fish Richard Parker!” and the tiger merely growls in response; getting through the book was extremely painful. Anyway, I know this is meant to be about the film not the book, but the reasoning I have for explaining all this to you is that in spite of all my hatred for the novel, I did my best to put it behind me and approach the film with an open mind. After all, I read the book when I was fifteen and I was not as cultured a man as I am today, my tastes have matured somewhat and perhaps the film version would open my eyes.

Well, and I never thought I’d say this, Life of Pi was actually quite good.

Life of Pi makes a much better film than it does a book. And not just because of my eight years of cultural maturity, but because the visual medium is of excellent benefit for the kind of story it is. In books, I often find that animals have now power; you never really get the full experience of facing down an animal when you read it in a book. And when reading Life of Pi, I had no fear from the tiger or sympathy for the zebra or orangutan. But in film form, seeing the colour of Richard Parker’s eyes, hearing his roar and the rumbling growl ever present in his breath and just watching the strength in his muscles made him an absolutely terrifying obstacle to be stuck with in the boat. And the sounds and behaviours from the other animals gave them a sense of character and made their trauma much more heartbreaking than the novel could ever have hoped to achieved. No expense was spared on the computer animation of the animals in the boat; they were all extremely realistic and never once looked like they weren’t there with Pi in the boat. This realism made the scenes of silence between Pi and the animals (and there are many!) much more interesting and powerful, it is one thing to read about staring down a tiger, but seeing it is quite another! I congratulate the visual effects team, they’ve done an amazing job.

Acting wise, the film was also quite excellent. The young Pi in the boat did a great job, especially considering it was one of his first feature roles, given he mainly only worked with nonexistent co-stars. On top of that, the film is framed by an older Pi telling a young author (who isn’t named, but is clearly meant to be Yann Martel) his story, and they both were very interesting to watch even though their roles were minimal. The one complaint I would have there is that the author character was basically Captain Exposition, pretty much explaining the twist at the end to the audience. That’s just sloppy writing right there.

I mentioned earlier that I found the story to be “incredible”, as in in-credible. Without spoiling it too much, a large part of the film is supported by the question of whether Pi’s story of survival is true or not. And I often feel that we’re not supposed to have a solid answer to that question, that it could just as easily be true as well as false. But the events of the film contain many moments (that I shan’t reveal) that, for me, make it impossible to believe that it did happen. I don’t mean that to say that it breaks the twist, but more in the sense that I was taken out of the film by thinking “no, Pi should be dead now” and I couldn’t believe what was being shown to me. And I believe that that spoils the film a little, which is sad as that mystery is part of the power of the ending.

Anyway, amazingly I have come around to think that Life of Pi was a good film. I enjoyed watching it, and that was something I never expected to happen after eight years of loathing Yann Martel and his Booker Prize for literature. This film is definitely worth a look, if for nothing else but the visual feast for the eyes and to at least see possibly the most realistic tiger to be realised on screen.

See you next time!

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