Review: “Life of Pi” not quite up to par with novel
by Hae-Lin Cho
Published November 25, 2012
With its colorful special effects creating a feast for the eyes, the recently released cinematic version of Yann Martel’s award-winning novel “Life of Pi” provides satisfactory entertainment but lacks the thought-invoking depth of the book.
Renowned director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain”) and a staff of relatively new faces to the Hollywood screen – including Suraj Sharma, who portrays protagonist Piscine (Pi) Patel with absolutely no prior acting experience – powers the film, which premiered Wednesday, Nov. 21.
The film details the harrowing trial of Pi, who fights to survive on a lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker after his entire family drowns on a journey from India to Canada. Pi ultimately tells two versions of his tale – one involving the unbelievable, the other the “acceptable” – leaving viewers hanging on a single, unanswered question: which is “real?”
Knowing the complicated premise of the plot, I didn’t expect much success from the film. No matter the technological developments, I just couldn’t imagine the film delivering an animated representation of the tiger without making scenes extremely cheesy or rudimentary.
Yet, in reality, the visuals were actually quite pleasing.
Of course, the numerous scenes with colorful lights that resembled a cosmos or universe became a little repetitive. It’s a common problem with movies that have a 3D option: In order to add more visual goodies for the 3D audience, those who can’t tolerate the strain of 3D movies on the eyes (or wallet) suffer.
Yet, I didn’t spend the film finding flaws or cringing at the depiction of the animals and natural disasters Pi faces. Are they majestic and fantastical? Yes, but only because they are that way in the novel as well. Especially for younger viewers, the hulking tiger, flying fish and glowing island will delight one’s senses.
But this is where the positives of “Life of Pi” really end. The major problem with this film is the lack of deep discussion of faith versus rationalism, a major theme in the novel. It occurs, but in near-pathetic quantities, and for viewers who haven’t read the novel, the inner struggles of Pi are virtually absent – which makes it that much harder to reflect on the importance of religion or doubt.
And those who have read the novel may notice some omitted scenes (the trash heap and cannibal French man) and additional plot lines inserted that simply putter out (what was the purpose of having a five-minute love interest for Pi that never reappeared?).
But that Lee could even put together a coherent film interpretation of Martel’s novel remains impressive. I do applaud the cinematography, creative scene compositions, acting and the blend of occasional humor and attempted depth.
I also add a disclaimer for all those whose desire to watch this film is ebbing: Because “Life of Pi” constitutes one of my favorite novels, I was rather harsh on the film for what I saw as its lack of discussion on the wider themes of the novel – faith, perseverance and culture. But it’s there, and viewing the film is recommended.
There is no dearth of adventure in Pi’s journey.
Life of Pi
2 hours, 6 min
Directed by Ang Lee
With Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Gérard Depardieu, Tabu, Ayush Tandon
Here is an official trailer of “Life of Pi.”
Property of 20th Century Fox.
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