Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning novel, Life Of Pi, is brought to the big screen by acclaimed director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon).
When his parents decide to move the family zoo from India to Canada, Pi (Suraj Sharma) reluctantly sets sail with them. A violent storm leads to shipwreck and, as the only human survivor, Pi is left to fend for himself onboard a lifeboat he shares with surviving tiger, Richard Parker.
Life Of Pi has frequently been described as an unfilmable book. Yet, while Ang Lee succeeds in creating an hour and half of utterly mesmerising film using just a single actor, Life Of Pi is bookended and often interrupted by a much less captivating description of the events by the older Pi (Irrfan Khan).
Used to add analysis and to raise questions about the key themes of faith and storytelling, the older Pi explains key moments of his tale to an interested author (Rafe Spall) who thinks Pi’s story will make him believe in God - a device that’s much more effective in literature than on screen. That this outer story interrupts the spectacular world Ang Lee has so painstakingly created is frustrating.
We learn little about the author to whom Pi is telling his story - leaving these scenes feeling flimsy and tacked on - while the older Pi’s explanations lack subtlety, detracting from the story’s mystery and leaving few unanswered questions for viewers to genuinely contemplate after the film’s conclusion.
Yet, when Ang Lee immerses us in the world of the younger Pi (Suraj Sharma) and his tiger, Life Of Pi becomes one of the most compelling and enchanting films of 2012.
Heavily dependent on impressive CGI, Life Of Pi delivers epic visuals that evoke its deepest themes. As Pi struggles to gain command of Richard Parker, grapples with flying fish and crosses the path of a leaping whale, Ang Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda merge reality with fantasy. Colours are saturated and garish at times, but this exaggeration serves to emphasise the beauty of the natural world. Combined with some of the best use of live action 3D to date, Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi makes for a spectacular visual delight.
Water is beautifully captured, with underwater scenes filmed carefully and with an eye to detail. Shot from beneath, Pi appears to swim through the sky, while the world of sea creatures is dramatically contrasted with that onboard Pi’s raft. Elevating these visuals to magical realms is the breathtaking, eerily spiritual score from Mychael Danna.
Pi is an interesting and appealing character who easily sustains this film that is almost entirely centred upon him. Suraj Sharma’s performance is powerful and compelling and he excels in developing a convincing and moving relationship with the computer generated tiger, Richard Parker. Pi grapples with his own faith as a youngster in India, finding truths in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, rejecting his father’s rationalism. But Life Of Pi’s weighty themes never feel crowded or inaccessible and are at their most powerful in the hands of impressive newcomer Suraj Sharma.
As a film, Life Of Pi doesn’t hang together as neatly as it should, with the over-explained metaphors of its outer story sitting world’s apart from the more subtle and enchanting story within.
Yet the skillful handling of difficult themes makes Life Of Pi a film that can be viewed on many different levels. Ang Lee gives us a film on an epic scale that is beautiful and enthralling.
Underpinned by a poignant and emotional performance from Suraj Sharma, Life Of Pi is a stunning cinematic end to 2012.
Running Time: 127 minutes.