Sunday, March 17, 2013

MAD, Day III: Life of Pi (2012)

I was one of the millions who adored Life of Pie when the novel was released in 2001, but I instantly thought it to be un-filmable. Aside from the obvious CGI complications, the idea of watching a boy spend half a year on a boat with a cranky tiger, while at the same time not being absolutely silly seemed highly unlikely. Then came The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

The Fellowship of the Ring was an absolute game changer, and coincidently released the same year Life of Pi was published. To successfully bring a story of that scale to theaters was a magnificent achievement for cinema, and made the idea of a Life of Pi adaptation a piece of cake in comparison.

So finally, 11 years later, the widely popular book was adapted for the big screen, and it's difficult to imagine it being any more faithful to the product it was based on. Director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain), could have easily jumped right to the good stuff from the opening scene with the ship going down and watching the titular character (Suraj Sharma) have his shenanigans with his on again/off again pal tiger named Richard Parker. But it is a good half hour (at least) before Pi and his family ever step foot on the boat. Instead, the first act is focused entirely on his childhood, and even delves into the concepts of faith, religion and God, some of the most important themes depicted in the novel. A small feat, yes, but another topic that could have been avoided altogether, but admirably wasn't.

One Pi is stranded on the raft, the film really becomes mostly about drooling over the fantastic special effects, and it's clear that Lee tries to show it off on more than one occasion, as the camera seems to forget about the boat and drifts away and focus on things that have basically nothing to do with the plot, as if Lee is saying "'Hey look, a while!' 'Ooohhh cool, look at all those pretty jellyfish!' 'Ha ha! Look at those silly meekrats!'"

Richard Parker also happens to be one of those CGI characters that you not only sympathize with, but somehow more so than with the actual human beings on the film (think Gollum from LOTR or Caesar from Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Not because of poor acting, but simply because of the phenomenal, detailed effects that were put into the virtual creature. These details didn't just make the predator nice to look at, but made it's relationship with Pi all the more believable and compassionate.

Life of Pi has a big heart, and that's the most accurate description I can possibly give about the film. It bursts with several themes, among faith, friendship, and love, even though at times it isn't quite sure exactly what it has to say about any of it. Lee seems to go all Spielbergy on us at times by catching you off guard with a few tearjerking moments, and most of the time, it succeeds. It is highly likely you will experience some sort of warm or emotional feeling in your gut by the end credits. I know you cried for Richard Parker at the end of the film. It's OK. I won't tell anyone.