Life of Pi Review
2012, 120 minutes
Rated PG for
Life of Pi is the new film by Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and was screened tonight as its world premiere at the opening of the New York Film Festival. Ang Lee was present at the screening tonight and said that he had been working on the film for four years and that he had two weeks to make some tweaks before handing in the film to Fox. Life of Pi is obviously the work of a master director working at the peak of his powers as it boasts a huge heart and the best cinematography, visual effects, score, and 3D (the film was actually shot in 3D, not turned into 3D during post-production) that you will probably see all year. The film follows a young Indian teen, Pi (newcomer Suraj Sharma) who gets stuck in the middle of the ocean on a lifeboat with a tiger after the ship carrying him and his family sinks.
Let me get my gripes out of the way before anything else, so that it doesn't seem like this is a negative review. Every problem with this movie came from the screenplay by David Magee (Finding Neverland). The pacing was uneven. There were sequences that were heart-stoppingly stunning and suspenseful, such as the shipwreck sequence, but after that, the movie literally seemed to stop, especially in the scenes with Pi at sea. It also became quite repetitive and some scenes were too dramatic (in terms of the dialogue, the tone was perfect).
With that out of the way, let me mention all of the wonderful parts of the movie. First off, the score, by Mychael Danna (Moneyball, Little Miss Sunshine) is the best of the year. It is subtle, moving, and sets the tone of the film. It never overwhelms and gave me chills.
Claudio Miranda's cinematography is perfect. Each shot is exquisitely and carefully picked and the images that Miranda captures are breathtaking. The way he works with the 3D is especially impressive (you'll see what I mean when you view the film).
The 3D effects for this film are the best that I have ever seen. The film uses 3D to both deepen the image onscreen and to also have the occasional object pop out of the screen into the theater. It immersed me in the film's world. Also, it is amazing what a difference it makes to shoot a film in 3D as opposed to post-conversion. The image has depth and each object onscreen looks three-dimensional as opposed to two-dimensional with a little shading on the background (as it typically looks in post-conversion).
The visual effects were jaw-dropping. Much of the water and the animals were rendered with CGI and it was very hard to tell what was real and what wasn't. The animals, particularly the tiger, have emotional depth in their animated faces. The backgrounds are colorful and are colored much like some Bollywood films. While it was obvious that backgrounds and images like many portrayed in the film do not exist, in the context of the movie, they looked very realistic.
While technical work is very important, especially for a film of this scope, what really matters is the amount of care and humanity that is put in the film. Ang Lee and crew really made sure that this was not another $100 million CGI-fest with no heart or soul. Lee captures moments of such humanity that it brought tears to my eyes. In one sequence, the tiger is clinging to the side of Pi's lifeboat, its head bobbing in and out of the water. It knows that if it doesn't get aboard, it will die. Pi looks over the side of the boat and looks into the tiger's eyes. The tiger looks back at him, sad, alone. This image was captured beautifully as we stare right into the tiger's eyes; into his soul. We see the humanity in this wild beast. He is as alone as Pi is and realizes this. Lee carefully places the formerly majestic tiger's face in the middle of the frame with the dark blue ocean around it, showing the desolation. Less experienced filmmakers would have simply shown Pi looking over to see if the tiger is there and then just show a brief image of the tiger.
Overall, Life of Pi is a solid film, partially undone by a weaker-than-it-should-have-been script. But, it is redeemed by its big heart and outstanding technical work. This is a film that will appeal to people of many ages and will surely do well (in the least in the technical categories) come awards season.