Pi (Suraj Sharma) and his constant companion, a Bengal tiger known as Richard Parker, endure life at sea and an uneasy détente in the wondrously enthralling 'Life of Pi.'/USA TODAY
If ever there was a fearless filmmaker, it's Ang Lee.
With Life of Pi, Lee takes on a not-so-crouching tiger to bring audiences a wondrously enthralling adventure fable.
Shooting a film on water is notoriously risky, and most of Life of Pi (*
* * ½ out of four; rated PG; opening Wednesday nationwide) takes on
that hazard. Working with animals (even the CG variety) and children can
also be rough going. Lee blithely faces these hurdles and still
another: shooting the movie in three dimensions.
All these gambles
pay off handsomely. Lee's exquisite adaptation of Yann Martel's 2001
best seller is a visual feast that leaves an indelible impression.
Vibrantly rendered 3-D adds to the film's otherworldly quality.
teenage boy is stranded somewhere on the Pacific Ocean in a small
lifeboat with a menacing tiger aboard. What could be more challenging -
for director and innocent main character?
Lee is a master at epic filmmaking, as beautifully illustrated in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. He is also brilliant at evoking emotional resonance, as he demonstrated in Brokeback Mountain.
cast Suraj Sharma - who is making his film debut - in the lead role of
teenage Pi Patel. Alone on the open sea for a good portion of the film,
Sharma proves to be a natural talent.
Pi, short for Piscine, the
French word for swimming pool, was named by a father who loved all
things aquatic, though he never swam.
Pi is fascinated by
world religions, and also the dangerous beauty of one of the animals in
his family's Pondicherry zoo: a tiger oddly named Richard Parker.
Pi's parents decide to move - along with their menagerie - from India
to Canada, tragedy ensues. Their ship is caught in a powerful tempest
featuring the most harrowing water-logged disaster scenes since Titanic.
in which Pi struggles to survive on a storm-tossed sea are thoroughly
riveting, as are amazing underwater sequences in which the zoo animals
struggle mightily. Pi somehow survives, along with Richard Parker.
Pi's long oceanic voyage, the film is buoyantly riveting. It's a
compelling personal odyssey of survival amid grandly spectacular vistas.
A tentative bond between boy and hungry tiger seems oddly natural in
this extreme, storm-lashed setting.
It is only in the story's
expository framing device that the overall flow is marred. Interviews
between an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) and a struggling writer (Rafe Spall)
come off plodding in comparison to the sumptuous adventure on the high
seas. These passages work better as a literary device than a cinematic
Otherwise, Lee takes the best from Martell's novel and blends
religion and zoology (the adult Pi's dual college majors) in artful
ways. Pi encounters a captivating array of sea creatures while
shipwrecked: magnificent whales, glorious flying fish and iridescent
underwater life. He also cries out to God for deliverance.
As mighty waves crash, and even when the sea is nearly becalmed, Life of Pi is a spectacular high-seas epic that employs technology brilliantly and underscores the power of a vividly told story.
'Life of Pi' Clip: Flying Fish