Sunday, December 02, 2012

Life of Pi

Based on the novel by Yann Martel, Life of Pi is the story of a 16-year old boy who survives a freighter sinking as he’s on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger as they trek on a journey in the sea. Directed by Ang Lee and screenplay by David Magee, the film explores the world of a young man’s survival and the bond he makes with his surroundings and with God. Starring Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gerard Depardieu, Rafe Spall, and Irrfan Khan. Life of Pi is a lavish yet extraordinary film from Ang Lee.

The film is essentially the story of how a young 16-year old boy from India named Pi (Suraj Sharma) who survives 227 days in the Pacific Ocean after a freighter has been sunk where he’s on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Throughout the journey, Pi ponders about the spiritual world as he and Richard Parker try to live with each other on this lifeboat and survive as it is all told by the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) to a writer (Rafe Spall). During the course of the film, Pi talks about his fascination with spirituality as a child and how it would impact the way he dealt with the situation of being stranded all alone in sea with a Bengal tiger.

David Magee’s screenplay does play into traditional narrative conventions as the first act is about Pi’s childhood and how he named himself Pi since he was originally named Piscine after a pool his father’s friend had been to in France. In this first act told by the adult Pi, Pi reveals a lot about his own fascination with different religions and the belief that things like animals have a soul. Of course, his father would show him a lesson about the way animals are as it would confuse the teenage Pi where he would fall for a beautiful young girl until his family decides to move to Canada on a freighter ship. The second act is about the time on the ship and the accident that leads to Pi being stranded on sea with a Bengal tiger.

Then the story starts to deviate a bit in terms of structure as there is thing long section about Pi’s time in the sea where there’s no voice-over narration or any kind of narrative device. It’s just about Pi and a tiger on a boat trying to survive and become companions in this adventure where they would encounter many mystical moments. The third act is about Pi and the tiger encountering more miracles that would test Pi’s faith and eventually his return to the real world. Still, it is told from this man’s perspective to a writer where he reveals what he gained from the experience but also what was lost.

Ang Lee’s direction is truly stylish in the way he presents the film as he goes for very different framing devices and aspect ratios as well as keeping things simple in the dramatic portions of the film. Largely in the scenes set in India and Montreal where Lee doesn’t go for a lot of visual tricks except for a few scenes that carries a lot of exposition into the origins of Pi’s name in scenes set in Paris though it’s shot at a soundstage in Taiwan. The rest of the film is shot in a soundstage with a water tank to explore Pi’s journey as it does feature a lot of computer-based visual effects to help tell the story. Yet, it manages to work in order for Pi to interact with this unique world in the sea filled with flying fishes and all sorts of creatures.

Some of the approach Lee uses in these visual-effects driven scenes allow Lee to play with different aspect ratios in order to create something that is stylish as well as playing around with the 3D technology. Though at times, it seems like Lee wants to unveil the advantages of 3D. It doesn’t really seem necessary as it still looks very good in the two-dimensional format. Notably in scenes such as Pi’s encounter with a mysterious island that he stops at where it would become a turning point on what he should do with the journey he’s taking in. Even as it would reveal a lot of ambiguities into the story that Pi is telling where it does end on a fitting note, despite being a bit over-drawn at times, about what Pi went through as well as how he was able to maintain his idea of spirituality. Overall, Lee creates a very fascinating and visually-marvelous film about survival and faith.

Cinematographer Claudio Miranda does brilliant work with the film‘s colorful photography from the beautiful scenes set in India to some of the more entrancing and colorful shots at the sea. Editor Tim Squyres does excellent work with the editing to play around with the film‘s structure and include a few montages as well as jump-cuts to play with the film‘s rhythm. Production designer David Gropman, along with supervising art director Dan Webster and set decorators Terry Lewis and Anna Pinnock, does amazing work with the set pieces from the French pool that Pi was named after to the scenes in India and Montreal as well as the island that Pi encounters.

Costume designer Arjun Bhasin does wonderful work with the costumes for the clothes that are worn in the scenes set in India and Paris. Visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer does some spectacular work with the visual effects from the look of some of the animals including the Richard Parker character in some parts of the film to the scenes in the sea including the fishes and whales. Sound editor Philip Stockton does superb work with the sound work from the way the freighter sinks in that big sequence to the more intimate scenes in the sea. The film’s music by Mychael Danna is terrific for its mixture of low-key orchestral and piano driven scores with exotic Indian music arrangements to play out the drama and mysticism of the film.

The casting by Avy Kaufman is fantastic for the ensemble that is created for the film. Among these notable small performances include Adil Hussain and Tabu as Pi’s parents, Shravanthi Sainath as Pi’s teenage girlfriend Anandi, Mohamed Abbas Khaleeli and Ayan Khan as Pi’s older brother Ravi in different ages, Andrea di Stefano as a priest that the young Pi meets, and Gerard Depardieu in a funny cameo as meat-loving cook. Rafe Spall is wonderful in a small but crucial role as the writer who listens to Pi’s story as he has to figure out what is the best story to tell. For the role of Pi, there’s four actors playing the role such as Gautam Belur as the five-year old Pi and Ayush Tandon as the 11/12 year old Pi where both of them give excellent performances. Irrfan Khan is great as the adult Pi who tells his life story with such sincerity as well as a bit of humor into a man who knows he went through a lot. Finally, there’s Suraj Sharma as 16-year old Pi as Sharma gives a remarkable performance as a young man dealing with his situation and the journey he encounters as well as the Bengal tiger that he grows to love in this journey.

Life of Pi is a spectacular and enchanting film from Ang Lee. Featuring a captivating breakthrough performance from Suraj Sharma and an engaging story about faith and humanity. The film is definitely a film that features amazing visuals as well as themes that is very universal to a wide audience. In the end, Life of Pi is a tremendous film from Ang Lee.

Ang Lee Films: Pushing Hands - The Wedding Banquet - Eat Drink Man Woman - Sense & Sensibility (1995 film) - The Ice Storm - Ride with the Devil - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - The Hire: Chosen - Hulk - Brokeback Mountain - Lust, Caution - Taking Woodstock - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - The Auteurs #19: Ang Lee

© thevoid99 2012

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good review Steve. It's a beautiful flick that utilizes the 3D element to the best of it's ability and really places you in this whole, other world. Sadly, the story can't quite keep up with Ang Lee's ambitions and sort of fails to bring-out the emotional fireworks within. Oh well, it will probably get a crap-load of Oscar nominations, as well as it should.