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.
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