Going into Life of Pi, my expectations were painfully low. When first seeing the trailer for the film, I believe my words were something along the lines of 'that looks god awful...', and to this comment I hold. The trailer and marketing of this film is hugely misleading. If you are expecting flashy, garish visuals and a whimsical tale of a boy befriending a tiger you will be severely disappointed. This is a challenging film to watch. Big questions are asked of the audience without forcing an answer on you and upon leaving the cinema, this film prompted conversations about theology and philosophy long afterwards.
It is only after watching the film that I can truly acknowledge my girlfriends insight before going to the film as
someone who had read the book. 'It's not what it looks like'....indeed
it is not.
Let's get the technical aspects out of the way - this is the first film I believe where the 3D translation has been entirely justified. I have never been an advocate of 3D film, and avoid it where ever possible. The times where I have seen a 3D film, they have been poorly translated and I have always found that 3D blurs the action, or is so garish that it makes me feel nauseous rather than impressed. Life of Pi is a breath of fresh air in that regard. To be embarrassingly honest, I forgot I was watching it in 3D, such was the immersion. I would wholeheartedly review my opinion of 3D if this continued to be the standard that 3D films are presented in. This makes Life of Pi even more special, as it is the first film that felt like the 3D belonged here, and served to carry the story forward.
The most lasting spectacle in my mind when leaving the cinema was that of Pi silhouetted against a sinking ship. A shot which I knew was pure CGI, but felt nothing less than a work of art. Indeed, you could pluck a handful of images from this film and each would be worthy of a place in a gallery. If this sentiment goes against my pre-conceived doubts about the film being nothing but spectacle, I would again argue the flaws of the trailer. All of these beautifully crafted set peices are entirely relevant, and serve to carry the plot forward. This speaks great volumes of the intelligent direction that Ang Lee chooses to drive the plot forward in a film that could have very easily delved into boredom. I have never been so captivated by one man in a boat.
This leads to the outstanding performance of the cast. Suraj Sharma in unbelievably his first acting role is nothing less than breathtaking. Having such great source material has resulted in one of the most moving, thoughtful and inspiring characters portrayed on film. This is mirrored perfectly by the adult incarnation of Pi, played by Irrfan Khan, and these two really do carry the film. Another noteworthy mention goes to Richard Parker, our leading Tiger. That I can describe the Tiger has a character as opposed to a CGI presence really sums up the mesmerising performance that has been rendered on screen. Perhaps Richard Parker and Gollum will have to duke it out over that Best Supporting Actor for a CGI character award.
Obviously this film does have its flaws. While I considered the story to be perfectly told, the beginning does take its time to get going. Characters that are introduced (namely, Pi's love interest Anandi) seem largely pointless in the greater scheme of the story, especially given how much she featured in the trailer imagery, but these are small quibbles in what is bound to be an award show stealer.
Much to my surprise though, there seems to be some controversy regarding the ending. Without going too much into spoilers, I found these concerns to be, frankly, ridiculous. Very early in the film, Pi establishes that this is a story that will 'make you believe in God'. Moreover, the first half an hour of the film, quite brilliantly, dissects science and religion with the relationship between Pi and his father, and creates a unique approach to how you will watch the rest of the film. The ending is a logical conclusion to the themes presented to us, and, depending on how you responded to these early examinations of the subject of faith, will decide how you will feel about the end resolution. This is not a 'preachy' film, and no way decides for you how you should feel.
There have been a lot of films that ask big questions but don't necessarily answer them for you, but the mark of true greatness (compared to say the absolutely, horrific disappointment that was Prometheous) is that these questions are raised outside the context of the film, and does not mar the story telling. It is truely remarkable that an ending such as this is brave enough to ask questions about the nature of faith, as much as it can simply be a great film with a thought provoking ending.
It's a rare day indeed for me to say this, but, in my humble opinion, as long as you disregard everything you've seen in the trailer, this is an excellent film that will not disappoint. 5/5