LIFE OF PI (Ang Lee, 2012)
In theaters now
Based on Canadian author Yann Martel’s 2001 award-winning bestseller, Life of Pi has been adapted into an up-and-down movie that moves between the terribly boring “real” world and a man’s wildly thrilling tale of adventure on the high seas as a teenager. Rafe Sprall plays a novelist desperate for an idea to replace his abandoned book, so he has been pointed in the direction of Piscine “Pi” Patel (Indian movie star Irrfan Khan of Slumdog Millionaire). Pi proceeds to tell the writer about his childhood growing up in his family’s zoo, a time when the young boy (played through the years by Gautam Belur, Ayush Tandon, and Suraj Sharma) explored various religions, including Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam, in his search for a supreme being and meaning. But while his family is on a freighter on their way to a new life in Canada, the ship sinks, leaving Pi alone on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker from the zoo. As Pi desperately struggles to survive, he develops a unique relationship with the tiger, having been taught by his father (Adil Hussain) that no matter how much he might think the tiger can gain emotional understanding and compassion, he is still a vicious killer. Directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; The Ice Storm), the film borders on the spectacular when it is on the water, detailing the teenage Pi’s battle to stay alive, gorgeously shot by cinematographer Claudio Miranda and edited with heart-stopping excitement by regular Lee editor Tim Squyres. But the framing story, in which the elder Pi discusses his life and religious beliefs, is dry and dull, at times seeming like a vignette better left for an evangelistic cable channel. Perhaps Lee needed his longtime producing partner and cowriter, James Schamus, to help work his way through the muddle; Life of Pi is Lee’s first feature film made without Schamus, with the screenplay here written by David Magee (Finding Neverland). Nevertheless, Life of Pi still supplies enough thrills and chills, especially in 3D, to get past the psych 101 philosophizing. The film earned eleven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, and Best Original Song.