Film Review: Life of Pi

Life of PiMaybe it’s time we stopped calling certain movies ‘unfilmable’. Lord of the Rings was apparently unfilmable and looked how that turned out. It was impossible to turn Jack Kerouac’s On The Road into a film they said, yet they managed it. Life of Pi was yet another film supposedly unfilmable, yet director Ang Lee has made a complete mockery of that claim and has produced something that proves said term is surely now obsolete.

Based on the 2001 Man Booker Prize winner of the same name, Life of Pi is the story of Pi Patel whose family must relocate their zoo from India to Canada. However, during a terrible storm their ship sinks and Pi finds himself alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. Well, not quite alone; he has a huge Bengal tiger called Richard Parker (animals with human names are the best) for company. Pi has to somehow survive being in such close quarters with the tiger, as well as battle the elements and overcome his hunger, thirst and loneliness.

In that short synopsis it’s pretty easy to see why the film was considered unfilmable – Pi has to be on a lifeboat next to a freakin’ great tiger. No insurance company is going to cover that. Therefore it would have to be done with CGI, and up until reasonably recently the technology wasn’t available to pull it off. Now, however, it very much is and it’s been done with aplomb. The visuals are simply astounding from start to finish. The animation of all the animals, particularly Richard Parker, is breathtaking and it doesn’t take long to forget entirely that they aren’t real. It’s a real reminder of some of the amazing animals there are out there on the planet, even if, in this case, most of them are made on a computer.

The cinematography only adds to the film’s splendour. Almost every shot looks like a work of art, whether it’s gigantic waves crashing against the boat, a whale gobbling up millions of bioluminescent sea creatures or an ocean of calm and serenity with nothing but open water as far as the eye can see. This is where the 3D must also get a mention. Even for 3D dissenters, of which there are many, Life of Pi shows that it can work and there is a place for it if done correctly. Whilst many 3D films are lazily put together, Ang Lee has clearly taken the time to think how it would be best used and the effects are very satisfying. It’s not gratuitous and doesn’t feel like a gimmick, which is about as much as you can ask for. You’ll likely not miss out on much by seeing it in old fashioned tood but the 3D certainly won’t spoil the film as is often the case.

Pi & Richard Parker

In terms of performances, there isn’t really a huge amount going on other than that of the various actors portraying Pi at different ages. Suraj Sharma, who is the Pi we see on the lifeboat, does an admirable job, especially considering he’s acting to nothing for the most part. Having to pretend you’re in a certain place or certain things are there when you’re acting is something that more and more actors are having to deal with thanks to CGI, but at no point is Sharma anything other than completely believable and committed to the role. Irrfan Kahn as the adult Pi also does well despite having limited screen time. The other major character is, of course, Richard Parker, and by the end of the film it’s easy to become just as invested in him as it is Pi.

Life of Pi is a film about storytelling. It is told in flashbacks narrated by adult Pi to a writer (Raff Spall in the world’s easiest paycheck) and is incredibly simple in its construction. It’s an incredibly pure form of storytelling leading to an conclusion which has the ability to beguile and astound and is ripe for interpretation and analysis. The film does take its time in getting going, with some details and scenes feeling a little unnecessary in the first 20 minutes or so, but after that everything is paced perfectly. Just one scene featuring an island of meerkats feels slightly odd.

Another major theme of the film is that of religion and the existence of God. This may attract some and may put others off, but if you are one thinking of giving it a miss on that basis, then you should reconsider. At no point does the film preach or ram pro-religious messages down your throat (believe me, as an atheist I would be the first to mention if it did). Instead, it simply lets you make up your own mind, treating the audience with a huge amount of respect. Almost everything in the film can be taken at face value or as metaphor, allowing you to take as much or as little from it as you like. Some have said that Life of Pi will make you believe in God, but that’s missing the entire point of the film. It’s much more intelligent than that.

So let’s do away with the term ‘unfilmable’, shall we? Life of Pi proves that this is an antiquated term nowadays, and if there are any other texts considered ‘unfilmable’, perhaps we should just give them to Ang Lee.

5 pigeons

5/5 pigeons

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27 thoughts on “Film Review: Life of Pi

  1. ckckred says:

    Nice review. I agree, it’s a great film that shows that unfilmable books can be made into movies.

  2. Mark Walker says:

    Excellent review sir. I really mist get my arse to the cinema to see this before it’s too late.

    • Thank you very much! Yeah I would definitely recommend seeing this on the big screen, I just can’t imagine it having quite the same impact on a small one. Even if you don’t end up liking it, you’ll have seen it at its best.

  3. “Just one scene featuring an island of meerkats feels slightly odd.” agreed. There’s something symbolic happening there that I didn’t quite unravel in my first viewing (The Island is shaped like a person), but the whole thing is a little skewed.

    Great flick though, no? I thought very highly of it. Really did. Glad to see that you did too, Chris. :D

    • Oh yeah there’s definitely some metaphor going on there, probably something about it representing Pi’s feral side or something and him trying to escape it, but could be anything!

      I really did thoroughly enjoy it though, it was such a pleasant surprise. The trailers didn’t interest me in the slightest but my interest grew and I’m very glad I gave it a chance.

  4. Good review, but I’m left unsure as to whether you’d read the book prior to your viewing of the film?

    I’m a huge fan of the book, and, as is often the way with novel-turned-film, it’s easy to spoil the memory of an excellent read.

    • Hi Phil, I haven’t read the book, this is purely a review of the film. You’re right, I didn’t make that clear. I really enjoyed the film and am interested in reading the book now, it was never something that interested me before. It is always worrying when you see a film based on a book you love and I’m not sure how the two compare here. Apparently the book goes into much more depth, but that’s always the case, but I have seen other fans of the book say that they have enjoyed the film.

  5. ruth says:

    “Another major theme of the film is that of religion and the existence of God.” As a believer, I’m very intrigued by that. I haven’t read the book though, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy that. In fact, I might actually enjoy it more.

  6. r361n4 says:

    I completely agree that it treats it’s audience with respect when it comes to religion, that was one of the aspects of the film that impressed me the most. It actually took me about five days worth of thinking to really appreciate this one, and as a result it’s the only movie I’ve gone back and changed my score to so far.

    Nice review :)

    • Cheers man! It is definitely a film that takes a while to get your head around if you really think about it. I’m still thinking back to it now and trying to piece certain bits together. I’m guessing your score went up then? I loved the whole thing about being able to choose which story you prefer, thought that was really clever.

  7. vinnieh says:

    Great review man, certainly looks like a visually arresting film to watch.

  8. mettelray says:

    I’m most definitely going to see the film, I don’t know if before I read the book or after, but surely they will both be able to entertain me this year. :)

  9. sati says:

    Lovely review! I must say I’m not really looking forward to it, I’d take gritty movies or political films over big, gorgeous looking epics any day. I’ll definitely catch it on DVD though, I bet it will get Best Picture nomination and every year I try to see all the nominated films even if they don’t interest me.

    • Thank you :) I wasn’t really expecting an awful lot from it either to be honest but it pleasantly surprised me. I definitely think it’ll get a nomination too (doubt it’ll win though) and I’m sure Ang Lee will get a nod in the directors category too.

  10. thedavidryan says:

    Excellent review! I thoroughly enjoyed Life of Pi and thought the 3D worked very well, especially when Richard Parker came from under the lifeboat cover and jumped right out of the screen at the audience.

    • Cheers mate! For some reason WordPress decided to put this comment in my spam. I gave it a damn good thrashing though and all is well now. Yeah I thought this was probably one of the best examples of 3D i’ve seen and there were a couple of moment when I did jump a bit.

  11. Great review, Chris. I liked it a lot upon first viewing (except for the fact that they overexplained the ending) but I felt it didn’t hold up well after a second viewing. The visuals are amazing, though, but I prefer the book ten times more.

    • Cheers man! That’s interesting it didn’t hold up so well, although I do think most of its emotional weight does rely on you watching it for the first time. I’ve heard a lot of people saying it over explained the ending but I didn’t really mind it, I thought it explained it just enough for those who haven’t been looking for the whole metaphor thing but still leaves enough to debate and ponder afterwards. And i’ve just got a hold of the book and am looking forward to reading it, it’s a fascinating story.

      • Hope you enjoy it. Of course, it doesn’t have the terrific visuals of the movie, haha, but it’s much more powerful in my opinion. Sadder, and gives you a clearer picture into what Pi went through: the suffering, the hunger, the loneliness.

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