Life of Pi - Directed by Ang Lee, written by David Magee, starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, and Rafe Spall - Rated PG
I've been on a mission to read the books to as many adaptations as possible lately. I read Team of Rivals before I watched Lincoln, I burned through Cloud Atlas as fast as possible for that film, I finished One Shot for Jack Reacher, and I'm in the middle of On the Road at the moment (sorry Anna Karenina, I'll just stick to the movie). When I read that Life of Pi was based on a book, I got a copy as soon as possible. I was pleased to find that it was in the young adult section, meaning a quick read. As I read the grisly details of the story of a young man stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger, I started to wonder about that young adult label. I also started to wonder how I had not heard of the story before, as it made an emotional impact on me. I was so crunched for time that I actually had to finish the book in the theater parking lot before I went in. I cannot recall a time that a book was so fresh in my memory as I watched an adaptation.
As an adaptation, I feel that Life of Pi should please the readers. The gore of the book is toned down a bit (I honestly believe this film would be rated R if it was a completely faithful adaptation, but the spirit of the novel is not. Once you get past the gimmicky plot synopsis (a boy and a tiger) and the over-lauded visuals (this is not as impressive, visually, as Avatar, no matter what the ads tell you), Life of Pi is a truly human story of survival. I don't want to spoil anything, but trust me, this is not a film just about a kid avoiding a tiger for two hours. I finished the book and it worked for me completely. I had the same feeling as I walked out of the theater. If that's not a faithful adaptation, I don't know what is.
Now back to those visuals. Yes, I claimed that the praise is exaggerated, but that doesn't mean the film isn't beautiful. In fact, it is certainly one of, if not the, most impressive film of the year, visually speaking. First off, that tiger isn't actually there, of course, but you'd never know it from watching the film. Ang Lee impresses most, however, with his use of water. Water, traditionally the bane of filmmakers, is used to mesmerizing effect here. The storms and whatnot are impressive and all, but the those moments of tranquility in the middle of the ocean allow for images beautiful enough to belong in a museum. As for the 3D (another aspect of the film that has been highly touted), I'm starting to think that I'm one of those rare people who can't grasp the full effects of the gimmick. Some moments were kind of neat, I suppose, like when Lee messed with the ratio so fish seemed to be flying out of the frame, but for the most part it added nothing to the overall visuals of the film. And it certainly didn't make the story any more or less effective.
The visuals and themes of a film can work on their own, but a good performance can elevate it all, and Sharma and Khan, playing the title character of Pi Patel as young and older respectively, handle the role well and create an emotional core to the film. Let's face it: if you don't care about Pi as a character, how could this film be effective in any way at all?
All in all, I found Life of Pi to be one of those rare, emotionally resonant films. It's also a good enough adaptation that I feel confident telling people to skip the book and just check out the film. It doesn't hurt that it happens to be stunningly beautiful as well. I know it's been a few weeks since it has come out, but this one really needs to be seen on the big screen, so check it out if you can. And certainly watch it when it comes out on video, because behind the visuals there is a touching story about humanity that is very uplifting. Please disregard that last sappy sentence and check this movie out.