I saw this movie a couple weeks ago and mistakenly never got around to posting a review of it here. A couple folks have asked me about it so I am doing so now, even though it is already in theaters.
The plot of the film is quite simple. It is the tale of a young boy -- mid teens -- who's family owns a zoo in India. They decide to move the zoo to America, the only way to do so is via a boat. While at sea, the boat sinks. The boy is let alive, as are some of the animals, including a bengal tiger. The boy and the tiger end up being raft-mates in a decent sized (but not huge) lifeboat and they spend a loooong time at sea together trying to survive. I know it sounds fantastic and more than a little bit ridiculous, but it works. Trust me. The movie does not take shortcuts and make the tiger talk to the boy or something silly like that. It is a real tiger and acts like a real one. The peril from being in a confined area with a beast that wants to eat you is always present in the movie. This is not some strange Dr. Doolittle or something like that.
Sounds simple, but the story also speaks to faith and friendship and spirituality. Heck, on some level I think the whole movie is about the quest to find God in the most mundane and fantasic moments in life. It is not preachy, nor does it endorse any particular religion. Heck, I think it pretty clear speaks out against faith in one religion over another. I could imagine someone who is a true aetheist being somewhat bothered by this film, though the movie never seeks to actually confirm God exists. Now that I look back on what I just wrote, I realize I am making the movie seem waaaay more religious than it actually is. Rest assured, no matter what your belief system (I am Jewish but don't really believe in God as some being watching over us), Life of Pi is neither preachy nor offensive.
On the good side, I found Life of Pi to be one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. The screen is chock full of majestic scenery and remarkable effects. This is one of those rare movies where I say SEE IT IN 3D!! The 3D here is fabulous and really adds to your appreciation of the images on screen. The tiger, as well as pretty much all the other animals, are 100% CGI. I cannot even explain how good the CGI is here. I will merely say that the CGI tiger looks almost entirely real in every scene. You have never seen CGI this believable and integral to the plot of a movie. I truly think the leaps forward in this film will give filmmakers the ability to tell stories in whole new ways going forward. It is a leap into CGI that is entirely believable. I think it is worth buying a ticket merely to experience the wonder of that.
However, a word of warning. This is not an easy movie to sit through. It is a long 2 hours, dragging at times and not filled with nearly as much action as you might imagine. I did not check my watch, but I was aware that the film was not holding all of my interest at times.
That said, I think it is a great film for a date or for a family. You will talk about it and think about it when it is over and I think it is appropriate for kids down to 10 or 11. It is going to be nominated for a slew of award, I suspect, including Best Director for Ang Lee. It is interesting to note that the cast is almost entirely unknown actors. The only remotely famous face in the film is Gerard Depardeau, who doesn't even have all that big of a role.
Well, that's about it. It is a thinking person's movie, that's for sure.
-Jason "hope lots of people see it, if only because I think the images are so beautiful" Evans
Based on Jason's recommendation, my wife and I took in Life of Pi yesterday, watching it in XD 3-D. I came away with a comme ci, comme ša attitude toward it. It was far better than merely OK, but it was not a super class movie. I hate to say it, but these castaway stories are pretty much all the same. Moreover, it is also true that the authors invariably try to place some level of faith into the movie. So they are formulaic in that sense: 1. for some fantastic reason our protagonist finds himself adrift in the southern oceans; 2. to survive he must overcome the sun, the salt, the denizens and 3. he finds some sort of inner strength and 4. is rescued.
Given that triteness, Life of Pi is still a visual feast. And it has the twist that the boy must share his lifeboat with a bengal tiger. And that, I submit, requires more than a simple genuflection toward a deity to lead to deliverance. And, of course, that is where the movie clearly begins to veer into fantasy, including the carnivorous island stop. At the end, story number 2 is far more credible than story number 1. [And I'm not going to spoil it by telling the reader what those two stories are.]
I think this movie is good enough to get recognition for both special effects and for photography. And I think the young adult Pi, actor Suraj Sharma, does a remarkable job interacting with Richard Parker, the improbably named tiger. Of course, since the tiger is CGI, Sharma is reacting to an empty screen. Yet his movement and his general behavior capture what it all might have been like. Against this is the 45-year-old Pi, Irrfan Khan, who serves as the narrator. Director Ang Lee has seamlessly bonded the two for the story. Somehow those performances become one and as such deserve recognition.
But the star of the movie is Richard Parker. CGI is a lot like Photoshop here. The tiger goes from magnificent predator to wasting castaway himself. So whoever manipulated that process should earn some sort of public recognition.
All of which, IMO, does not add up to a great film. The religious or philosophical questions which Pi asks are not the stuff of any particular faith as this boy tries to understand the Unanswerable Question, but are the stuff of a writer who knows it will not be answered except in the general understanding that God or the gods act in mysterious ways. Somehow, I think we already know that. Some folks, I think, will find this film beautifully allegorical. Maybe it is, but I don't find myself caring, probably because Lee doesn't really focus on it; instead he focuses on the tiger and his eyes.
Although it hasn't been made into a film (yet), Unbroken's Louis Zamperini actually survived a similar castaway ordeal and his true story, worsened by his abused POW status, as opposed to Pi's fictional one, seems far more compelling, both as a horrendous adventure and as an inquiry about the nature of life.
Anomaly: When humans swim underwater, they usually trail bubbles from their mouth, particularly if they must hold off breathing for any length of time; Lee didn't seem to think that depiction was necessary.
All in all, moviegoers can take or leave this film. I do agree with Jason that the 3-D version is a better way to see it. I know he prefers a different film for that, but I still think Hugo is the movie which has used 3-D the best.
I just finished the book (wanted to read it before seeing the movie). Hoping to see the movie this week. No matter what I think of the movie I'm really glad I read the book - it was outstanding.
Without giving too much away, how did they handle the second story? Did he just tell it, or was there visual representation?
-Jason "I wish more people were seeing this piece of cinematic art" Evans
I read the book when it came out. 10 years ago? I really loved the book and won't be seeing the movie. I just can't imagine that they got it right. It would be almost impossible to do. The fact that several reviewers point to faith being hinted at or suggested tells me that the movie is very different than the book.
Thanks for the clarification on the second story. Interesting idea, Jason, that the second story wasn't true because it wasn't shown. It has been quite awhile since I read the book, but I remember the second story being rather -- uh -- not nice, and definitely not suitable for a "feel good" film.
I would ask how they handled what happened to the other animals on the boat, but maybe that's giving too much away? I guess I could go see the movie, but I have recently lost two pets and can't currently watch sad things about animals -- or people.
And, perhaps more importantly, I think I'm one of the few people who didn't really like the book.
I only finished the book a week ago, and I was waiting to see the movie after I had read the book. The whole time I was reading the book I was saying to myself, "there is no way to make this into a movie - it simply can not work". Clearly I was wrong. Wow. I found it to be one of the most emotionally gripping movies I have seen in a long while - I had to sit in the empty dark theatre for a few minutes to "compose" myself before I was ready to go out and join my family.