Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ang Lee's Breathtaking "Life of Pi"

It’s a rare feat for a movie to successfully portray a character’s voyage of spiritual discovery. Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012) is one of those films. “Pi” Patel is a young boy in India whose father owns a zoo. He’s very intrigued by religion and spirituality, and decides to not only follow Hindu tradition, but also to explore both Christianity and Islam, which angers his traditional father. But Pi “just wants to love God” and experience him in different forms. Pi is also interested in the zoo’s Bengal tiger and wants to befriend it, but his father (who’s more of a realist) warns him that animals are not like people. He tells Pi to should stay away from the animal, and that he shouldn't expect it to act like a human.

When Pi is around 16, his father tells the family they are moving to Canada, where they will sell all the zoo animals and begin a new life. The freighter they are traveling on encounters a storm, and the ship sinks. Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with several animals from the zoo, including the tiger. They appear to be the only survivors of the shipwreck. As time goes on, it ends up being just Pi and the tiger stranded at sea. They have to learn to live together if they are going to survive long enough to be rescued. It’s an experience that will change Pi’s life forever and “make him believe in God.” I don’t want to say too much more about the story here; this is one of those movies you’re better off experiencing as you see it.

Ang Lee, director of such films as The Ice Storm (1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and Brokeback Mountain (2005), knows how to tell a story with an epic sense of scale without losing sight of the personal side. The nature of this tale necessitates the use of a lot of CGI, but it’s not distracting here, as it can be in some modern films. In addition to the tiger, who feels real, there are some splendid visual moments that are truly awe-inspiring. The evocative score by Mychael Danna & the gorgeous cinematography by Claudio Miranda also add a great deal of atmosphere to the film. Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi for most of the movie, gives a wonderful performance, filled with emotion and depth. We go on this adventure together with Pi, and Sharma makes you feel like you're there on that lifeboat with him.

David Magee wrote the moving screenplay for this adaptation of Yann Martel’s 2001 bestseller. This is a story about journeys, both spiritual and personal, and how experiences like this can change our lives forever. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you watch it. All of the artists who worked in front of and behind the camera on the movie have done a fantastic job. Ang Lee was honored with a Best Director Oscar for the movie in February, and it’s well deserved. I’m a great fan of Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012), and at the time, I was a little disappointed that he didn’t win the directing Oscar. I have to admit the Academy may have gotten this one right, in honoring Lee for his work on this film, while awarding the Best Picture award to Argo.

Life of Pi is now available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital download from various sources. The Blu-ray edition features some interesting behind the scenes documentaries, covering the entire production of the film. The movie has also been released in a 3D Blu-ray version. For the purposes of this review, I watched the 2D Blu-ray, and the picture quality was amazing. You owe it to yourself to experience this powerful film. Here’s a link to the movie’s trailer:

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