Life of Pi | Film reviews, news & interviews
Life of Pi
A good story told well: the digital domain crosses the uncanny valley to an ocean of possibilities
It’s not a real tiger, is it? Well, sometimes, actually, it is. In director Ang Lee’s long-awaited adaptation of Yan Martel’s feel-good parable of 2001, The Life of Pi, we learn that real tigers are good swimmers and even the best CG programme in the world would find it hard, now anyway, to digitally reproduce a big, wet, muscular cat that wants to eat the hero.
Beginning with the elder Pi Patel – played by Irrfan Khan, a man blessed with a face that seems to know more than your face – an amazing story of magic and hope is told to bedazzled Canadian pre-novelist (Rafe Spall). As a youth, Pi Patel (played by Ayush Tandon early on) is taunted for his given name, Piscine. Wisely shortening the moniker, he finds the woman of his dreams just as his father (Adil Hussain) uproots the whole family to Canada. This includes the family zoo, which will bring better profits if sold in North America than in the family home of Pondicherry. One storm smashes Pi’s hopes of a smooth journey to the new world.
The Life of Pi is a tale of horror and denial just as it is a story of magic and wonder and of utter sadness and despair. When the Canadian is told at the very beginning that Pi's story will inspire belief in God, we are intrigued. The allure of the novel is, arguably, a religious parable.
Filmically, our interests are a little more basic: how realistic is that tiger? Has Ang Lee taken the craft so far that we can do away with real animals and, by extension, actors soon too? Lee, who loves risky visuals (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) is also deft with human emotion (Brokeback Mountain). Here, gorgeous tunes and succulent images beguile the eye and ear – but they cannot be mistaken for reality.
That said, with a full belly and an empty bladder, The Life of Pi is gloriously colourful and entertaining, even if you come away feeling that you’ve just seen the biggest cartoon of your life. Lee has taken the CGI art form one step further, especially in rendering animals, and, like The Mummy, Tron, Brave, Titanic and Avatar, this is a milestone in digital entertainment. The Life of Pi doesn’t always look right, but it is pointing to the new future of the moving image.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
Denis Villeneuve is at the helm and Emily Blunt at the fore of a brutal narco-war thriller
A not-so-Swinging Sixties in Joan Littlewood’s comedic yet fiercely political critique of so-called progress
As Suffragette opens the London Film Festival, its director reflects on a group of women ahead of their time
Outstanding documentary on ice hockey and politics charts changing mood of Russia
Alecky Blythe's documentary stage musical looks at home on the small screen
The Scottish play starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard marries spectacle to mumblecore
Pacino triumphs, despite questionable attempts to channel Neil Diamond
Challenging French film about engagement, or lack of it, in unsettling ocean environment
Matt Damon gives a masterclass in survival in Ridley Scott's space adventure
The late Soviet and Russian master Alexei German finds diamonds in the muck
Diverse films gave a glimpse beyond the tourist veneer of Brazil's cultural capital
Submarine star Craig Roberts' coming-of-age debut feature is flawed but bracingly inventive