Life Of Pi film review: All at sea-G

Life Of Pi, the film.

Well, that’s one way to make sure you get plenty of leg-room.

Release Date: 20 December 2012
PG | 127 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Irrfan Khan, Suraj Sharma, Rafe Spall, Tabu, Gerard Depardieu

It’s been a long, arduous journey through development for Life Of Pi, a process that defeated such directors as M Night Shyamalan, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Alfonso Cuaron. Ang Lee has admitted that even he initially didn’t want to tackle Yann Martel’s 2001 mediation on the battle between spirituality and practicality, because he couldn’t see a way to bring it to life on the screen. Well, thanks to the audacious use of CG imagery and some truly impressive 3D, he’s just about managed it.

There’s no denying that the cinematic take on the struggle of Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel (played primarily and effectively by newcomer Suraj Sharma) to survive after a shipwreck is both dazzling and, at times, deeply emotional. What could have been a diluted exploration of faith and the power of storytelling to keep it alive is instead a poignant, adventurous yarn.

Oddly, the only thing that lets it down is the script, which, while it does manage to distil the grand themes from Martel’s tome, can’t quite get a handle on the narrative. The framing method of an older Pi (Irrfan Khan) telling his story to a writer (Rafe Spall) can’t keep the momentum – pun intended – afloat. It’s a jumble of styles, starting with heavy narration and dwindling as the long stretches of Pi at sea take over and Sharma begins to handle voice-over duties. But that’s not the fault fault of Khan or Sharma, who imbue the different stages of the character’s life with real feeling.

However, when Lee follows the old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words, the result is something glorious. Fully baking the 3D into the storyline as a way to enhance both the wonder and the perils of the young man’s experience, we’re offered some astounding sights, including whales, meerkats and flying fish. But the rest of the spectacle is dwarfed by the amazing effects bringing to life Richard Parker, the tiger with whom Pi is forced to share a lifeboat. Augmented by one or two shots of a real animal, the CG beast is astonishingly realised, a character all his own, but one that never becomes Disneyfied.

It’s an impressive and brave attempt to tackle a book many thought could not be adapted. While it doesn’t always enchant, Pi is still a beautiful fantasy with a sting in the tale.

James White

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