Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi has been a massive best-seller for quite some time. Several years later, the inevitable film adaptation is finally being released. Numerous rumors began to spread across the Internet regarding which filmmaker would handle this project. Director Ang Lee was an excellent choice in the director's seat. He's made some fantastic stylistic decisions that truly fit with the main character's perspective. Even though there are far more pros than cons, Life of Pi isn't without its flaws.
A man simply known as The Writer (Rafe Spall) listens to the magnificent story told by an older Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan). Once he begins to speak, the film takes us back in time to a younger Pi (Suraj Sharma). He survives a disastrous shipwreck and finds himself lost in the middle of the ocean. Pi follows a set of rules, with the most important one being to never lose hope. Even though he's stranded, he isn't alone. Pi ultimately forms an unexpected connection with a fearsome Bengal tiger by the name of Richard Parker.
As soon as the feature begins, the character development already kicks into gear. We get the opportunity to witness some crucial moments through Pi's childhood, although the meat of the plot doesn't truly start until he's a teenager. We get to progressively witness this character's growth through this horrifying situation. It's interesting to see how the protagonist's views animals, as he follows a variety of different religions and believes that there's a lot more to animals than what meets the eye. Even though Richard Parker is just a CG tiger, viewers will surely feel a strong connection with him throughout the film. This is a dangerous animal, but he's just as crucial of a character as Pi is and you'll find yourself caring about them equally. There are an extremely few amount of motion pictures that are able to make viewers so emotionally connected with an animal. As the film continues, we're fortunate enough that Ang Lee and writer David Magee have decided to have no narration over Pi's story and it occurs as if we're watching it in real time, which is much more effective than a narration would have been.
The majority of Life of Pi takes place in the open waters, as Pi continues to fight for survival and tries to train Richard Parker so that they can coexist in such a small amount of space. Speaking of the scale, it's incredible how much depth there is in a movie that takes place entirely in the middle of the ocean. There are so many complex layers that touch on themes such as religion, love, loss, and hope. David Magee's script is well-written and handles such topics with care. Unfortunately, the framework is unnecessary and constantly feels like we need to be told that this is a great story. The plot is fantastic on its own merit without the film itself trying to convince us of it. Towards the end of the movie, the dialogue becomes a little bit too sentimental for my taste as the older Pi explains obvious points that could have been left for audiences to interpret themselves. These are two flaws that stand out and could have easily been avoided. Otherwise, David Magee has created a strong and memorable screenplay.
Ang Lee manages to impress with his casting choices. Suraj Sharma does a solid job as Pi. I'm glad that Lee went with a new actor so that audiences won't recognize him from any other projects, allowing this character to come across as being more realistic. Sharma is believable and has dynamics that are expected from an actor with many years of experience. Despite the fact that older Pi's scenes aren't necessary, Irrfan Khan isn't bad. He conveys the character well as he's retelling his experience. Without Khan's performance, the overly sentimental dialogue would have been a much bigger issue. Rafe Spall's screen time is limited since he stars as The Writer, but he's convincing. Under the direction of Ang Lee, this cast does a marvelous job pulling this adaptation together.
Life of Pi provides audiences with Oscar-caliber visuals. The material has been brought to the screen in the most beautiful way possible. There's a lot of CG work used, but it's done quite well. When the boat sinks, it's an extremely tense sequence that will have audiences sitting at the edge of their seats. The visuals and audio are incredibly threatening and accurately portray the situation. As the film continues, we're introduced to numerous breathtaking shots of the treacherous, yet beautiful ocean. With Pi being in a small boat with Richard Parker, they clearly didn't use a real tiger on set. However, the CG is brilliant. This is an example of how this technology should be used. The details are so great that it looks exactly like a real tiger. With the 3D roller coaster that has been raking in cash for multiple titles, Ang Lee has utilized the technology and he uses it in a remarkable way. He isn't afraid to change the aspect ratio and the depth in order to immerse viewers in Pi's situation. Life of Pi manipulates its visuals exceptionally well.
Even though this is an adaptation, director Ang Lee and writer David Magee have a clear interest in the subject matter. This film runs over two hours long, but it doesn't have a single dull moment. The story and its characters have a large amount of rich layers. By the end of the movie, you'll find yourself caring about the ferocious tiger just as much as you do about the main character. While there are a lot of positive things to be said, this film isn't flawless. The framework of an older Pi talking to The Writer doesn't fit very well and there's no need to explicitly describe some of the deeper meanings spread throughout the film. Even with its flaws, I really enjoyed this feature. Life of Pi is a great cinematic experience worth having. Highly recommended.