AFI DOCS 2014 (Days 3&4)

Life of Pi

I was a big fan of the book Life of Pi, so I was very skeptical when I heard they were making a movie of it. The story of a boy and a non-speaking tiger adrift on a lifeboat seemed too interior monologue/narration dependent to make a decent feature. And yet, in the hands of Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), it is pretty magical, and I think the visuals alone are the reason to see this film. I didn’t see the 3D version, but if you can, I think that would be the better choice, because this is the kind of movie that deserves the extra dimension.

The film is structured around scenes of the grown-up Pi telling his story to a writer, for me the weakest part of the film (and one that was not in the book.) I understand why they did it, but it felt kind of contrived. He tells the story of his name, deriving from Piscine — yes, he was named for a swimming pool — and the circumstances that led to him being the sole survivor of a shipwreck, along with an enormous Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The rest of the film is the two of them asea on the lifeboat as Pi attempts to make peace with and keep Richard Parker fed so he himself will not be the tiger’s supper. There is a religious (spiritual) underpinning to the movie as well, which did put me off a bit. It’s not hit-you-over-the-head preachy, but does make a lot of the visual choices seem like miraculous visions. The young Pi embraced Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam while still in India and tells the writer that his story will make him believe in God. (It made me believe in the God of Great Computer Graphics.)

Life of Pi clocks in at just over two hours, which came as a surprise to me because it moves at a pretty quick pace. I am not sure the script is up to the level of the visuals or that the casting of the boy who plays Pi was the best choice. I never really grew to like him all that much. But the tiger is ferocious and the film has some of the most amazing visuals designed for the screen yet. And for that alone, I would recommend it. It is definitely a family film (not for the wee ones, but once they’re past the scary monsters stage). And for people who like fantasy adventure wrapped in spiritual allegory (and did I mention the cool visuals?), it is a must see, if only for the meerkats.

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