“Mr. Patel’s is an astounding story, courage and endurance unparalleled in the history of ship-wrecks. Very few castaways can claim to have survived so long, and none in the company of an adult Bengal tiger.”
These words, spoken by the Writer (played by Rafe Spall) as he reads from a report at the end of the movie, offer a perfect summation to a tale that shows a dogged determination to survive and the power of faith accompanied by some incredible visuals. It’s the visuals that truly make director Ang Lee’s Life of Pi a wonder. Incredible scenes abound, from a dramatic disaster at sea to a school of flying fish to a whale breaching a bio-luminescent ocean to a floating island filled with meerkats, all moving the film along at a nice pace. This is the type of movie you want to see on the big screen, as the effects artists really outdid themselves.
The story, based of the novel by Yann Martel, chronicles the adventures of Piscine Molitor Patel, later to be called simply Pi (the details of his name are relayed in a very amusing sequence), whose family owns a zoo in Pondicherry, India. The zoo is home to a wide variety of animals, and its centerpiece is a tiger named Richard Parker (another amusing scene details that name’s origin). As Pi grows up, he becomes enamored with faith, first inspired by his Hindu roots, and then leading to Christianity, which in turns leads him to Islam. He dives into all, never forsaking one for the other, despite gentle teasing by his brother. His father even jokes with him: “Only three more religions, and you can spend your life on holiday.” As Pi grows, changes come to the political climate in India, and the father decides to move the family and the zoo’s animals to Canada. The family and the menagerie gain passage on the Japanese freighter Tsimtsum and they head off across the Pacific. Four days out of Manila the ship is hit by a violent storm. Pi, in his curiosity, goes up on deck to revel in the rain, a fortuitous move that enables him to survive. The crew pushes him into a lifeboat, which is knocked loose by a panicked zebra. The boat falls into the raging sea below, with Pi and the zebra aboard, thus beginning his incredible adventure.
Pi and the zebra are soon joined by others- an orangutan named Orange Juice, a hyena, and Richard Parker. The numbers soon dwindle down to two, leaving the boy and the tiger to come to terms with each other. They do so in both thrilling and comical fashion, gradually coming to grips that each needs the other to survive. Suraj Sharma gives an incredible performance as the teenager Pi, imbuing him with courage and a profound belief that God will guide him. Sharma makes Pi likeable, and we fear for his safety, even though we know he survives, since the film is framed with an adult Pi (played well by Irrfan Khan) relaying his story to a writer. It’s a wonder that the Academy Awards ignored Sharma, as his performance anchors the movie and holds his own for a majority of the screen time.
Pi ends up not only accompanied by the zebra, but he is joined by an orangutan named Orange Juice and a hyena as well. And, of course, Richard Parker. Needless to say, events dwindle the group down to two, the boy and the tiger. Eventually they come to terms in sharing their lifeboat, each one dependent on the other for survival. Their relationship is both thrilling and punctuated by humor, and is developed well. Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi, carries the majority of the film on his shoulders, and he does so remarkably, imbuing the character with courage and belief that his faith in God will carry him through. Sharma makes Pi very likeable, and even though you know he survives, since the film is framed by an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) relaying the things at a very nice pastory to a writer, you still fear for him at times as he tries to make peace with the tiger and survive in a hostile sea that is filled with sharks and violent storms. It’s one of the best performances on film from the past year, and it’s curious that the actor was overlooked in the Academy Awards.
The awards did not ignore the visual effects, however, and rightly so. Richard Parker is a wonder, a combination of live animal shots and CGI. It is this CGI tiger that is the most incredible, and is so life-like that only rarely can you tell the actor wasn’t in a lifeboat with the genuine article. The tiger is imbued with a strong sense of character, relaying both fierceness and a calm bemusement as he and Pi learn to share their small craft. The animators did a superb job with the animal’s movements and appearance, and when the animal is in jeopardy you fear for his safety. Richard Parker is the film’s visual effects centerpiece, but he isn’t the only wonder the artists at Rhythm and Hues Studios have provided. Scenes of a violent thunderstorm, complete with lightning striking the ocean, and Pi gazing into the water’s depths, watching as drama unfolds beneath the waves, all add to the amazing sights and sounds of the film. The movie benefits from superb cinematography, courtesy of Claudio Miranda ( TRON: Legacy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button ), and is highlighted by a beautiful score by Mychael Danna.
All in all, Life of Pi is a visual treat that’s not to be missed, and with its PG rating, can be viewed by all but the youngest family members (very young children may be upset by some the animal violence as the castaways’ numbers shrink). Director Ang Lee moves things along at a nice pace, and the film never drags. One of 2012’s best movies that’s well worth your time.
ce, and the film never drags. It is by turns thrilling, amazing,heartfelt, and downright funny. One of 2012’s best films that does service to an incredible novel. Wur time.
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