I must admit to initially being a bit sceptical when I first heard that a film adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel Life of Pi. I’m not a big reader but I would count Life of Pi as one of my favourite books, and it has generally been regarded as un-filmable. However, when I first saw the trailer back in March, I knew I was wrong. Ang Lee’s film is every bit as magical as the book.
We meet Piscine Molitor Patel A.K.A Pi (Irrfan Khan) as an adult, living in Montreal when he is visited by a novelist seeking inspiration. Obligingly, Pi tells him his remarkable story. Growing up in a family Zoo in Pondicherry, India, Pi enjoyed an idyllic childhood. He is devastated when his father announces that they will be leaving India to “sail like Columbus’ for Canada, zoo animals in tow. A violent storm hits the ship over the Mariana Trench and the vessel sinks. In a dramatic twist of fate, Pi (Suraj Sharma plays the teenage Pi) finds himself the sole human survivor on a small life boat, with a hyena, a zebra with a broken leg, an orang-utan named Orange Juice, and Richard Parker – an adult Bengal tiger.
The first act where Pi explains the origin of his name and his fascination with religions, his philosophies and of course, his first meeting with Richard Parker, follows the structure of the original text nicely and allows the viewer to fully appreciate the Aesop’s Fable nature of Pi’s story. Although Pi faces certain death at the claws of Richard Parker, he finds a way to survive on this tiny lifeboat with the hungry tiger for 227 days, and along the way discovers more about the earth, human nature and himself than in any of his existing philosophies.
The incredible visual effects only add to the story. Richard Parker is CGI for the vast majority of the film, yet this is one of the first instances where a CGI animal feels utterly convincing. Similarly, the 3D doesn’t feel gimmicky or distracting. There has only been one other film that I’ve seen where I have felt that the 3D has been truly “immersive” to quote James Cameron’s ridiculously over-used phrase. That film was Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams where I (to the amusement of my viewing partner) found myself trying to look round corners. In Life of Pi this effect is replicated. Some may lament the seemingly over-reliance of CGI and 3D in contemporary film, but here, Ang Lee will restore your faith in true filmmaking and reveal the real potential of new technology.
Beautiful, poetic and hypnotic, Life of Pi truly is a must-see piece of cinema.