Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Life of Pi

Life of Pi I don't know which one is more challenging: surviving a shipwreck at sea for 227 days with a hungry tiger in a lifeboat, or making a film about the ordeal. Renowned Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee not only brings an incredible adventure story to the big screen, but for his first time, he crafts it in 3D. Based on Yann Martel's novel, his latest film "Life of Pi" (USA 2012 | 127 min.) is certainly an enchanting experience for anyone who tend to believe in miracles or fairy tales. For others who are able to have the leap of faith, the film's sumptuous visual entertains handsomely.

After an exquisite 3D exhibition of adorable animals in a zoo during the opening credit, the film opens in present time. The adult Pi (Irrfab Khan) is telling his journalist guest (Rafe Spall) about his amazing surviving story at sea when he was sixteen years old. Pi assures his guest that he will believe in God when Pi finishes his story.

Then the film flashes back to the true beginning of the story, in India. Pi is a son of a zoo owner. During his preadolescent years, he practices Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism at the same time, in addition to his amusing recitation of the values of π for many digits. One day, Pi's father sells the zoo and moves the whole family to Canada. The entire family and many exotic animals are loaded into a freighter sailing into the Indian Ocean.

On a stormy night, the ship sinks. Miraculously, Pi becomes the only human survived on a lifeboat, with a hungry Bengal tiger. Relying on his faith, as well as a survival manual and limited supplies in a lifeboat, he keeps up his hope and fights for his survival in the open sea.

Suraj Sharma in LIFE OF PI

Director Ang Lee has a great gift in telling his stories with lush visual. That is quite evident in this film when it involves animals, the sea, and the nature in his helm. The only comparison I can think of to the marvelous scenes in this film is a magnificent BBC television documentary series "Life" (UK 2009), or perhaps that's where he draws inspiration from while creating his computer generated images.

For that reason, I wish this film were only a fairy tale about a boy and a tiger at sea. That would have been more perfect and more dazzling with all the fantastic 3D images. Unfortunately, the film keeps pulling me out of a fantasy world and brings me back into adult Pi's kitchen to listen to his philosophical narration. That immediately discredits the great adventure story at sea.

It's understood that many details must be left out of a two hour long film about Pi's 227-day drifting journey. If the film were simply a fairy tale, that would be just fine without elaborating them, even they might be crucial to the credibility of Pi's story. However, when adult Pi tells the story in first person, the film is cornered and it must come up a plausible explanation on how and why Pi survived. It's preposterous for adult Pi to suggest to his guest (read: the audience) that there must be a God, because the fact of his telling the story himself is a living proof.

If God were Pi's savor by providing him hints in many instances during his journey, why wouldn't God save Pi's family and prevent the freighter from sinking at the first place? And why a tiger, instead of, say, a giraffe?

The good news is that Ang Lee indeed takes up the challenge of telling Pi's story in 3D, the bad news is that Pi lives on to defeat that challenge.

"Life of Pi" a 20th Century Fox release, opens on Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at Bay Area theaters.


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