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.