I didn't much care for this. It's an okay adaptation in some ways, but it felt so tiny and I was almost completely unmoved by it. I didn't adore the book, either, but I liked the details and the sense of monotonous hell that Pi went through on the open ocean. I knew that Lee wouldn't make the version I had in my head (Meek's Cutoff on the water!) and I fully understand the need to condense things and quicken the journey's pace, but the narrative still never flowed for me at all. And while it was pretty, I felt that really worked against the whole experience. Anyways, enough of this rambling. Here's my review:
LIFE OF PI
It seems strange to criticize a movie for its beauty, especially considering the chief architect of that beauty is a filmmaker as visually and poetically gifted as Ang Lee, but beauty is exactly what fells the beast in Lee's glossy Life of Pi. Adapted rather faithfully from Yann Martel's celebrated 2001 novel, this tale of an Indian boy who calls upon his tripled faith to help him survive an arduous journey aboard a lifeboat in the Pacific is filled with visual wonders. As a practicing Hindu, Muslim, and Christian, Pi (played by multiple actors, but most prominently Suraj Sharma on the lifeboat) is a teenager whose love of God gives him the strength to find hope in even the darkest circumstances. The religious angle isn't particularly profound in book or movie, but it provides a nice backbone for the conflict that boils on the open ocean. The problem is that Lee gets bogged down in high angles that suggest omniscience and beauty that washes away the harrowing qualities of Pi's experienced horrors.
The movie sure is pretty, but to the point of unnecessary, even detrimental distraction. Screenwriter David Magee, struggling to cram the most important chunks of Martel's novel into an average running time, reduces Pi's journey to an episodic trek that never quite seems capable of communicating the pain of the situation in a moving manner. And then Lee comes along with cinematographer Claudio Miranda and a talented team of digital effects artists and attaches glittering imagery to each episode. Eventually, sometime after seeing Pi encounter a phosphorescent whale breaching boldly in the dark or a birds-eye-view shot of the boat bathing in the reflection of a starry sky, the movie solidifies its position as an unusually superficial collection of postcards.
Fancy, expensive postcards, to be sure, but there's an attractiveness to almost every step of Pi's supposedly devastating journey that supports an almost enviable viewing of the events. We know that Pi is enduring hardship after hardship on board his lifeboat and makeshift raft (an occasional voiceover vaguely vocalizes the difficulties of starvation), but the dramatic anchor is set free every time he encounters a stunning vision. The movie becomes more of a CGI travelogue than a tough tale of willful survival. By the time the movie reaches its conclusion, it looked like Pi actually had a pretty nice time with a few scrapes along the way. Obviously, such an observation requires some exaggeration, but it gets at the heart of the movie's problem: that Lee's decision to give everything a shiny sheen ends up sanitizing the experience to the point of pushing emotional resonance out of reach.
Lee has juggled beauty with danger in the past, most notably in his martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a picture of poetic power both in the visuals and the narrative. The balance he achieved there would seem to suggest that he could be a good match for the material here, but his take on Life of Pi is needlessly clunky instead. Seemingly out of touch with the movie's emotional potential, Lee keeps searching for God in the pretty images and comes up short with deities wrapped in plastic.
Although for all the decisions that confound, Lee still executes some good scenes throughout and ultimately turns in a watchable movie. With all of my accusations of ill-conceived beauty, I don't want to suggest that Lee has made something devoid of otherwise impressive decisions. The choice to present much of the lifeboat portion without voiceover narration is a welcome one, especially considering that the temptation must have been there, given the novel's first-person approach. There's still more hand holding going on than is necessary, as Lee and Magee resort to the reading of journal entries or even to the telling of the story by an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) later in the timeline in order to convey certain blocks of info they deem otherwise difficult to communicate with only images.
The acting, while never spectacular, is almost always serviceable, with the glaring exception of Rafe Spall, whose performance as the author listening to Pi's story in the modern piece of the timeline is a stiff, wooden bore. But Khan is decent enough, the young boys who briefly take stabs at young versions of Pi are fine, and Sharma is likably charismatic to the point that he dominates the camera quite comfortably when the movie is essentially reduced to a one-man show. The animators take over from there, creating a handful of believable animals destined to provide company for our faithful hero. An orangutan, hyena, and zebra all have brief stays on the lifeboat, but it is Richard Parker who becomes Pi's partner throughout it all.
The memorably named Bengal tiger, a 450-pound mass of pixelated muscles, fur, and whiskers, is with Pi the whole time during the ocean ordeal and their potential friendship is complicated by the tiger's wild tendencies. Richard Parker gets several moments to make his mark on the screen, both in some cute scenes and some loud, snarling, angry ones. As far as animal digital effects go, he's a pretty good actor and certainly a convincing presence. And on the subject of animals, the opening credit sequence of the movie is stuffed with them, a charming start that represents some nice, simple condensing of the first chunk of the book.
What works in Life of Pi is still plentiful enough to be enjoyed. The photography is certainly eye-catching, if perhaps too garish, while the production design is impressive, especially when it comes to the ill-fated freight vessel that sinks with Pi's family still on it and he just barely escaping the watery tomb. The chaos of the sinking sequence is expertly constructed and Lee and Miranda make good use of 3D technology to layer the elements and put us in Pi's shoes for a brief moment. But when it matters most, they abandon this connection in favour of glowing jellyfish and glassy surfaces touched by orange sunrises. They sure look nice, but they're empty images in an already tamed take on this tale. So much beauty, so little purpose. Well, there is some purpose. Note to Mr. Lee: you have some postcards to mail.
I am really bewildered by the whole, "It's so beautiful, it's distracting!" line of argument.
This isn't, like, a gritty, realistic film?
WHAT HAVE I DONE?
YOU SEEM TO MOVE UNEASY
Well, the book is pretty damn gritty. So it's not like expecting the movie to capture a small portion of that grit is uncalled for, really.
But the book aside, personally, I just wanted to be stuck in the horrible situation of living on a boat with a tiger in the open ocean. And yet that entire chunk of the movie is dominated by shots of phosphorescent whales, glowing jellyfish, and glassy surfaces touched by rich sunrises. And not only that, but there are several shots that just isolate the boat in blackness with starry skies and other such beautiful visions. By the end of it, I felt like Pi had a pretty great journey! Yeah, some shitty stuff happened, too, but he saw a phosphorescent whale! Gorgeous! I'm being a bit facetious here, but honestly, the images that Lee and Miranda and the effects team came up with did absolutely nothing for me in terms of communicating the hellishness of Pi's situation. And that makes no sense to me, to sugarcoat the experience like that.
I figure Lee was trying to capture a sense of godliness in the midst of this hell, but it came across as far too light and comforting for me. The religious theme is intended to give Pi hope, to show that with faith in God(s), you can really endure anything. Lee seems more interested in finding God in a fish.
And I did say in my review that it seems strange to complain about the beauty! Strange, but true for me!
Having never read the book, I thought this was pretty fantastic, with a look that was well-suited to the themes. I don't think a gritty aesthetic would have been at all appropriate for something that aims to be a kind of religious parable. If it were a cut and dry survival story, maybe, but that's not what this is.
I thought this was perfection
"Now my life is sweet like cinnamon..."
Yeah, we're seeing the story Pi prefers to tell, not necessarily the one he lived through. And we're seeing the fantasy he retreated into, to stave off fear and grief, and give himself a way to survive.
Also, in terms of the animals story vs. the evil cook story, I almost felt like the book seemed to be leaning to the latter being the real story, while the movie appears to do the opposite. The main clue for me is how Pi's version of the evil cook story is not accompanied by any flashbacks, unlike the other story. Part of that probably has to do with keeping the PG rating (the cook is a nasty bit of business, of course, and far more reprehensible than the hyena), but it also suggests to me that Pi simply doesn't have any images to attach to that story because it didn't happen. Anyways, just a theory on that. And I actually like that about the movie.
I never really had a significant emotional connection to Pi in either the book or the movie, but at least in the book, his ordeal is not sugarcoated at all and he details his descent into desperate animalism with such meticulousness and in such harrowingly convincing ways. That attention to detail pulled me into the story because it painted such a vivid picture of the character's survival and the hell he experienced. The movie took a different approach and while I'm fine with re-interpreting the novel and coming at it from different directions, I just want those different directions to be equally successful or interesting or at least make some sense to me. Personally, I just couldn't care about what was happening on screen when it became clear that Lee was so committed to emptily pretty pictures in a rushed and episodic narrative.
And like I said in my review as well, I'm surprised that the man who made Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon couldn't turn Life of Pi into a more dramatically poetic (and still pretty) movie. For me, at least. I figure Crouching Tiger proves he's capable of finding beauty in darkness and creative visual poetry without sacrificing the emotional power. Life of Pi felt very clumsy and clunky to me. Those modern day bits with Rafe Spall reallllly didn't help matters.
So much beauty that you almost forget that this is about the struggle for survival.
Dame Leo says,
This film had a profound impact on me. I was deeply moved. I have yet to recover or erase the themes from my mind. I may need therapy. Help.
Last edited by DameMelissaLeo; 11-30-2012 at 02:49 AM.
This is why Julianne Moore has never won an Oscar
I've been thinking about this lately. There's a lot, a lot, a lot to like about it, but I left the theatre feeling slightly cold afterwards? Cried like a baby over a few of the more devastating sequences ( ) and I found the shipwreck to be one of the most viscerally horrifying of the year. I don't know, though, I just have to see it again I think.
As pretty as it was, this film ultimately felt empty to me. I didn't really connect to any aspect of it, which is strange because I quite enjoyed the book. I don't regret seeing it. The technicals were outstanding and the acting was reasonably good. It just didn't say anything to me.
I thought this was a pretty perfect adaptation of a book I didn't like very much. It is very beautiful (much more beautiful than I expected from the trailer, where I found a lot of the images hideous and garish--I didn't think the 3D was all that great , but the film really benefits from the darkening effect of the 3D glasses) and well-made, and I understand why a lot of people who liked the book like it. For me, it has the same problems as the book, and a lot of those come from my own personal biases: as a rule I think the survival story genre is incredibly boring, I don't like the use of India as the universal source for hokey, generic spiritual feeling, and the fundamental "insight" of the story--that faith exists because it makes people feel good to believe nice, made-up metaphorical stories that explain the world--isn't one that appeals to me. But it's a good film, I guess.
There is a masterpiece in the middle 1 hour section but the beginning and ending just killed it, another new age bullshit.
Yeah I understand that the novel was structured this way, but I really wasn't a fan of the bookend framing device. That said, I still enjoyed the film. Lee's direction is very assured and the film was just so stunning and gorgeous. Richard Parker was seamlessly created and Suraj Sharma was utterly compelling onscreen. Hence, I was very moved by their relationship. The ending, for me, was a very mixed bag. I think the book handled that part way better and in a more nuanced manner. But then again, what do I know? I've always felt the book is unfilmable. So kudos to Lee for making a good (not great) film out of it. I definitely have no issues with it getting nominated for Pic and Director.
The Beautiful and Talented Godgend Seņor El Diablo Blanchitto
Returning to Hollywood with a Vengeance in 2013
I agree The Sapient. I loved the visuals, the shipwreck, the middle hour. The acting was solid. But the story didn't say anything to me. Certainly not a bad movie in any stretch of the imagination. It's just didn't speak to me.
Easily the best film I've seen this year.
It's been several weeks since I saw this in the theater, and it's still stuck with me. I really thought it was going to be a pro-faith film in the beginning, about how the goodness of our nature must be nurtured instead of seeing everything as savage (i.e. the scene with Richard Parker and the goat). And it was a pro-faith kind of film, but not in the way I expected. I hadn't read the book, so the ending took me a bit by surprise. It was haunting and ambiguous, yet I think the great thing about Lee's film is that either story is believable. There's so much detail in the story with the tiger and the island that I couldn't help but think there must be some truth in it. Who knows? Regardless, this is a gorgeous film with some great scenes of tension and tragedy. I just wish I saw it in 3D, particularly for the part where
"You are what you love, not what loves you"
- Donald Kaufman