If someone pitched an idea in Hollywood to make a movie that took place almost entirely on a small boat, that wouldn’t be anything new. It would be shot down and produced independently with whatever funds the filmmaker could drum up, just like every other overly-ambitious idea out there.
Fortunately, that idea was made into a best-selling book. And like every bestseller, it was only a matter of time before it would get made into a movie.
“Life of Pi,” directed by veteran filmmaker Ang Lee, tells the story of Piscine Patel, a young Indian boy who decides to shorten his name to Pi; this required him to achieve something academically, especially in math, so that he may earn his nickname. As years passed, and academics became boring and repetitive, he desired to search for something more spiritual, so he went on a journey to find God through various religions.When his father decided to move his business out to Canada, Pi and his family set sail on a ship filled with various animals from their zoo in India. Time passed, and one day, an enormous storm hit, and Pi was left stranded alone in a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He experiences extreme hunger and exhaustion, and his only companion is a bengal tiger from his family’s collection.
“Life of Pi” shows three parts of Pi’s life: his days as a spiritually curious child, his teenage days, and him as an adult passing down his story to an aspiring writer. Most of the movie takes place with him as a teenager, because that’s when all the adventure happens. The entire second act and beginning of the third take place on a lifeboat, but somehow, the pace would seldom seem dragged out and boring.
A lot of the excitement was built on the deep connection Pi started to feel with the tiger. He learned to tame the wild beast, and in exchange, the tiger continued to let Pi look into his soul, something he was told as a child that animals did not have. The tiger was basically Pi’s “Wilson” while he was casted away. But unlike Wilson, it provided actual physical danger for the protagonist, being that he was no more than 10 feet from it for most of the movie.
Don’t expect this movie to be some kind of deep psychological analysis with no eye candy. From the very beginning, it is easy to notice the bright, but balanced contrast and high attention paid to every detail shot. Ang Lee’s handling of all the visual elements were unbelievably controlled, and dare I say, beautiful. He uses 3D to his advantage, but not in the way most filmmakers tend to use it nowadays. Instead of loading every shot with as much action and CGI as possible (we’re looking at you, Michael Bay), he finds one element he wants to stick out and fades the rest of the picture into the depth of the background. And since the last movie I saw in 3D was the headache-inducing “Piranha 3D,” I would say that this was a hell of a relief.
In the beginning, parts of the movie dragged. However, a movie’s weight can be shown whenever there’s that one moment that makes you stop and stare at the screen. For me, that happened sometime when Pi was sharing a connection with the tiger, and from then on, the film refused to slow down. It’s basically “Avatar” for people who like more earth-bound movies, but the result isn’t any less stunning. What it lacks in CGI landscapes and blue aliens, it makes up for in crisp performances, intriguing storytelling, and visuals designed to grab your heart for an entire scene rather than grab your eyes for a few seconds.