They said it was unfilmable, a novel which could never be brought to the big screen, noone told Ang Lee, though, who has not only managed to film Yann Martel’s ‘Life of Pi’, but make a spectacular job of it, however, it has its flaws, which stops it being truly brilliant.
‘Life of Pi’ is a spectacular visual feast that remains truthful to its base text, with only it’s confusing flashback based narrative letting it down. For the first 45 minutes or so, it’s used a lot, and I got used to it flickering between Pi’s memories, and the present day Pi with a Canadian author, their interaction is limited, and is used purely to set up the next flashback, but it works. Then we get the film-altering moment, more on that later, and suddenly the device is out of action for almost the entirety of the film. It’s bizarre it just disappears, just as I was becoming comfortable with it, especially as the tone changes, from happy, family friendly scenes to more desolate, dark scenes, although that can’t be helped by director Ang Lee, and resides with its novel origins.
Our protagonist Piscine Molitor Patel, shortening his name to Pi, is a great character for the film to revolve around, a full-on, captivatingly funny person . We see he is compassionate, a little bit naive and stupid, but we care for him, he’s an innocent child and teenager as he and his family embark on their life-changing journey, moving their zoo from India to Canada on a cargo ship. His likeability comes mainly from newcomer Suraj Sharma, who is with us for the bulk of the film as shipwrecked Pi. As an unknown, like the majority of the film’s cast to Western audiences, you really believe in him as this lost, hopeless teenager, left in almost a purgatory state, who develops into a man as the film progresses, and he struggles to save himself.
Then we get to Richard Parker, deceivingly not a human being, but a Bengal tiger with whom Pi is forced to share his emergency boat. The interaction between the pair was interesting, but after a while, I felt the film had slowed down a lot as a result of it, losing much of its flow, and at one point, sending me to sleep. However, it was interesting and obviously not something we see in every modern day movie nowadays, yet another attribute to make ‘Pi’, stand out.
Incredible visuals involving luminous whales, flocks of attacking fish and Richard Parker himself, the best animal character since ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’, kept me entertained in spurts. The visuals are clearly where the majority of a pretty big $120m budget have gone on, which in turn has most likely robbed the film of any financial success its likely to have, as even a mainstream film such as this will not draw in the huge numbers of blockbusters.
Overall, there’s not a huge amount to talk about in ‘Pi’. It’s a solid film, above average and different to the majority you’re likely to see for the remainder of the year, but isn’t incredible, perhaps not fully reaching my own high expectations I had for it. See it if you’re a big fan of the book, see it if you’re mildly interested, you should enjoy! If not, stay away, the lack of big name stars will scare the masses, as will the extended periods of silence that regularly encompass the film.