With its indulgent backdrop of French India and its stunning digital graphics, the Life of Pi delivers a constant stream of breathtaking scenes. Despite a slow beginning, the film takes you on a magical and spellbinding adventure which captures the imagination.
Adapted from Yann Martel’s 2001 bestseller, the Life of Pi tells the story of a boy’s extraordinary effort to survive a shipwreck. The story is told in flashback by Irrfan Khan’s adult Pi to Rafe Spall’s ‘writer’. The teenaged Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) is the son of a zoo owner who is travelling to Canada with his family and their animals to start a new life. But when the freighter sinks after a vicious storm, Pi is left stranded in the tumultuous ocean with nothing but a broken lifeboat and a random collection of zoo animals.
As Pi’s crew includes a Bengal tiger, as well as chimpanzee, zebra, and hyaena, it’s only a matter of time before mates become meals. Yet somehow Pi and the tiger realise they cannot survive without one another: While the tiger needs Pi to catch fish for him to eat, Pi needs the tiger to keep his sanity.
In flashbacks to growing up in the French Indian colony of Pondicherry, the young Pi’s mind meandered between religions and we see him attempt to be Muslim, Christian and Hindu all at the same time. He collects the attributes of these religions like other boys his age might collect stamps; Pi cannot choose a single faith because he “just wants to love God”.
Taiwanese director, Ang Lee, clearly has a knack when it comes to bringing books to life, with Sense And Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm under his belt. He does full justice to this epic fable with strong characterisations of Pi and his family in addition to the stunning 3D graphics.
Like someone who’s woken from a deep sleep or meditation, the film takes a while to get going. At first the camera sweeps across vivid Indian landscapes filled with vibrant flowers. Then comes the awe-inspiring storm that sinks the ship, and as the weather calms so does the plot. The story at this point leaves you wondering where it’s going to end up, just like Pi who is left drifting hopelessly in the ocean. Despite being stuck thousands of miles from the possibility of dramatic interaction with other humans, The Life of Pi still manages to keep our interest.
Lee does this by spoiling us with a bravura use of 3D cinema technology. The film is packed with visually stunning scenes which do full justice to the natural wonders of the world, as well as a few supernatural ones too. The 3D makes it easy to feel that you’ve been plucked out of your cinema seat and plonked right in the middle of a surreal wonderland.
Digital paintboxes and 3D graphics have become quite de rigueur over the last few years, and even Martin Scorsese has used the technology in Hugo. Life of Pi‘s painterly eye takes 3D to the highest standards, as set by James Cameron in Avatar.
The lush, liquid 3D is at it’s height during a spectacular night scene. While the boat floats in the tranquil sea, luminescent blue jellyfish light up the dark waters like viscous supernovae. The ocean is aglow, and just to add to the magnificence of the scene, a fluorescent blue whale majestically dives over the screen. It’s difficult not to gasp.
Although the Life of Pi tells a simple story, it also looks into deep philosophical issues, including one of the biggest of the lot: the existence of God. Just like Pi who is left marvelling at the marine life that surrounds him, the film gently blows the mind with its super trippy visuals. There’s a dream-like air of mystery that hangs over it all which may not be to everyone’s taste, but it might just carry you out to sea.