Life of Pi Review

Life of Pi is an interesting cinematic achievement, albeit one that veers away from the book...

It is clear to me now that Ang Lee was the right choice of director for the movie Life Of Pi. For those that don’t know, this movie is based on Yann Martel’s best selling, Mann Booker Prize winning, novel of the same title, which is about an Indian boy who is stranded on a lifeboat with a few zoo animals–a zebra, hyena, orangutan and Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Ang Lee, who was responsible for such amazing films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Ice Storm, has created his best film to date.

First of all, I was very skeptical about seeing an adaptation of this novel on the big screen when it was first announced a couple years ago. This book is my favorite novel of all time, so my expectations are hard to live up to. It is a very difficult concept to properly grasp on film, due to the fact that the two main characters are a boy and a tiger. Enter Ang Lee–who has masterfully grasped the ideals put forth by Yann Martel in the novel and portrayed them for the masses to see on the big screen. I am very thankful for Lee’s decision to remove Tobey Maguire from the project, because after seeing the movie, Lee was right; Tobey would have taken away from the role because of his fame. Lee takes viewers on an emotional and religious journey for two hours.  This journey is both visually stunning and in full 3D. While the movie is a visual masterpiece, the comparison to James Cameron’s Avatar is a little over the top. But that’s okay; the point of Life of Pi is not to be visually stunning, but to be an emotional and spiritual experience. Mission accomplished, Ang Lee.

Suraj Sharma has portrayed Pi just as Yann Martel imagined the character in the book. His performance is impressive, especially for being his debut starring role. At the end of the movie, when Pi tells his story to the Japanese officers, he gives a truly poignant explanation of his journey that brings a tear to the viewers’ eyes (not mine…I remained strong, I swear!). His performance is surely going to land him future Hollywood gigs, so expect to see more of him soon.

Irrfan Khan portrayed the adult Pi Patel and also did a fantastic job. As the adult Pi, Khan gives a very moving performance that gives moviegoers a unique insight and provides for intellectual ideas–picture the adult Pi as the Master Splinter of the movie. Through a vivid narrative and emotionally charged conversation with the writer, Khan provides an important piece to treasure that is Life of Pi. Drop that knowledge, Khan!

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For the majority of the film, David Magee (you might know the name from Finding Neverland) has done a wonderful job adapting this unique and challenging novel to a screenplay.  However, I do have some minor issues. For one, I do not recall there being any love interest in the novel, but there is one in the film. While I’m not sure if Magee or Lee is to blame, it still has to be mentioned. Also, Pi never got close enough to Richard Parker to put his head on his lap near the end of the novel. I am also very disappointed that Magee decided to leave out a very important scene from the novel–the scene where Pi goes blind and meets another blind man at sea. Obviously, Magee did this because it would be very hard to film without ruining the ending of the movie. However, Magee and Lee should have found a way to include it in the film, it is that important to the novel’s development. This move felt overdone and cheesy, but didn’t ruin the movie. I do love the fact that Magee decided to throw in the name of the orangutan in the movie–what else would you call an orangutan but Orange Juice?

The soundtrack of the film was created by Mychael Danna, who was responsible for the soundtracks for Little Miss SunshineCapote and the television show, Medium. The musical score is very fantastical and largely orchestrated–an overall “big” feel. The music fits the cinematography very well, as shown by the large swells in sound during the storm at sea.

Credit also has to be given to Claudio Miranda, director of photography and David Gropman, production designer, because without them the film would not have been as majestic in is. Their use of vibrant colors throughout the movie, especially while Pi is at sea, are what make it such a wonderful cinematic experience.

I only have two real minor gripes with the film. My first issue is that I would have liked to have seen it shed its PG rating to gain PG-13 status, so that we could have seen some of the more gruesome moments in the novel brought to life on the big screen. For example, showing the goat actually being mauled would have had more of an effect on the audience than just cutting to Pi and his father looking away. My second issue with the film is that it took the book in a little bit of a different direction; the movie focuses more on the religious aspects of the novel, while the book uses religion as an underlying theme. These two issues are not nearly enough to ruin the movie, but they are worth mentioning for fans of the novel.

Even with these few flaws, Life of Pi is a true cinematic achievement that Ang Lee should be especially proud of. My expectations were shattered for this film and it is just about everything that I’d hoped it would be. It is a must-see magical adaptation of a just as fantastic prize winning novel.  

Overall, Life of Pi receives an 8 out of 10 for its visually stunning cinematics and beautiful, almost lyrical, story.

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