Friday, 11 January 2013

Life Of Pi - A Review

From Academy Award winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) comes the long awaited adaption of Yann Martel's 2001 novel Life Of Pi, bringing us the story of Piscine or 'Pi', a 16 year old boy stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean following a tragic shipwreck that claims the life of his family. To make matters worse for Pi, the family owned zoo which the sinking ship was transporting has produced a number of survivors of the wreck aboard the boat, most notably a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker as well as a gentle orangutan, injured zebra and a nasty hyena.

Much had been made of the visual effects, design and cinematography for Pi as early as the first trailers witnessed by the public, and it's easy to see why- quite simply, Life of Pi is a visual masterpiece, beautiful to watch and absorbing through it's majestic, delicate imagery. It is rare that I would recommend viewers to see a film in 3D but Life of Pi is an exception to the rule, a spectacle that demands the 3D experience due to it's wonderfully constructed setting, the like of which is rivaled only by James Cameron's Avatar in recent times.

So enough about how the film, what about the rest? Well the character of Pi is skillfully potrayed by Suraj Sharma, in his debut film appearance. The fact that for the majority of the film Sharma is the only actor present onscreen means that his ability to forge a believable, emotionally satisfying bond with Richard Parker is all the more impressive. Sharma is the dominant force throughout the film, rendering the rest of the cast a formality for the most part (with the possible exception of Adil Hussain as Pi's father in a reserved, well delivered peformance). It's not that the actors in Pi are doing anything wrong, rather they fail to stand out as their screen time is limited and insignificant.

At this point I must confess that I haven't read the book so I can't offer an opinion on how the source material of Pi was translated to a screen adaption, but I felt that the film began in an unusually slow manner, detailing Pi's childhood in an overlong fashion that delayed the true beginning of the film with our protagonist stranded at sea. Surely readers of the book will disagree but I admit to feeling a sense of boredom at times during Pi's travels, as he continually attempts to conquer the Bengal tiger inhabiting the raft and repeatedly clashes with his only companion aboard the boat.

It might look excellent even when nothing's happening, but the lack action or progress for the entire mid section of the film is slightly draining and fails to pay off. My best guess is that the slow paced suffering of Pi is translated better by text than on screen, and combined with the decidedly exotic location of the books setting, likely the reason Lee has constructed such an artistic, extravagant vison of the novel.

It is difficult to write about Pi without mentioning the infamous twist ending that left some viewers baffled and confused while others declared it a brilliantly unexpected alternate take on Pi's experience. Personally I felt it was an excellent ending to the film, providing a deeper meaning to the story and extending the need for analysis and debate following it's ambiguous conclusion, even if many will leave the cinema questioning what they just saw from start to finish.

Ultimately, Life of Pi is an incredible viewing experience that demands to be seen by any self respecting film buff, but it's universal reception and Academy approval (11 nominations) is slightly baffling to me and possibly more to do with Ang Lee's reputable status and previous relationship with the awards cermony than the actual work itself. Conclusion: visually stunning, but not a whole lot underneath the surface.


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