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Life of Pi

Fox // PG // March 12, 2013
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted March 19, 2013 | E-mail the Author

Ang Lee's Life of Pi isn't a film aimed at American audiences; it's aimed at everyone. It didn't exactly do big business at the domestic box office yet managed to gross half a billion dollars worldwide...and, of course, nab an obscene amount of awards in the process. As for Life of Pi's less-than-popular reception around these parts, the trailer is an easy culprit: it features a young Indian man on a boat with a tiger, a whole bunch of CG effects, swelling music cues and taglines like "The adventure of a lifetime!". Also, it was a non-animated film with a PG rating. I haven't been to the theater more than a few times in the last three, needless to say, I chose to wait for the home video release.

In hindsight, Life of Pi's trailer isn't much of a scapegoat, because you pretty much get everything it advertises. Based on Yann Martel's massively popular (and widely considered "unfilmable") 2001 novel of the same name, Ang Lee's big-screen adaptation is the rare visual feast that actually leaves room for a story. We're introduced to young Piscine "Pi" Patel, whose family owns a zoo in a territory of India. He is raised as a Hindu and vegetarian, though Pi eventually considers the Christian and Muslim faiths; not surprising, since his parents have different schools of thought. Eventually, the zoo fails, so his family travels to Canada to sell some of the more valuable animals...but during their dangerous boat trip, disaster strikes and Pi is left floundering in a lifeboat. The only other survivors are zoo animals including a zebra, orangutan and hyena. Soon enough, Pi discovers the zoo's Bengal tiger and is faced with a new challenge: not only must he survive at sea, but he's got to play nice with a vicious predator.

Not surprisingly, Life of Pi isn't a film that dwells on surface elements, though I suppose it could still be enjoyed as an oddly constructed tale of "Cast Away with a tiger". This effects-heavy production ripples with a spiritual (not "religious") undercurrent, and thankfully it's not as heavy-handed as one might think. Similar to most everyone else on the planet, Pi is conflicted about his beliefs, and it's his desire to love a higher power in lieu of rules that grounds much of the film's fantastic visual style. Life of Pi is a technical marvel in every sense of the word: the striking compositions, effective use of CGI and rich color palette work together instead of fighting for attention, creating a beautiful picture that nonetheless is more about feeling than sight. Even though science totally made that CGI tiger.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment serves up Life of Pi as two separate Blu-Ray releases, depending on your affinity for the optional 3D presentation. Lee's film is a visual feast even in standard 1080p format, while its immersive sound design is rendered perfectly in a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio mix. And though a handful of bonus features are exclusive to the separate 3D release, this Blu-Ray Combo Pack also includes a number of supplements that highlight Life of Pi's many technical accomplishments.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio (smaller portions briefly switch to 2.35:1 and 1.33:1), Life of Pi looks as perfect as you'd expect from a big-budget, visually ambitious production. Bursting with strongly saturated color, crisp textures, smooth visual effects and stunning compositions, almost every frame of this film is worth pausing for...and it looks even better in motion. The optional 3D release undoubtedly pushes the visuals even further, but what's here should more than satisfy even the most discerning videophiles. Digital eyesores such as edge enhancement, aliasing and compression artifacts are virtually absent from this 1080p presentation, which makes Life of Pi a true demo-worthy disc.

DISCLAIMER: These promotional images are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's native 1080p resolution.

The audio is equally impressive. Presented in DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio, this is a fully immersive mix that captures a strong amount of sonic detail. Dialogue is always crisp and easily understood, while your rear speakers and subwoofer will also have plenty to work with on many occasions. From the natural to the fantastic, there's an awful lot going on at times...and, to the credit of the sound designers, none of it gets lost or has to fight for attention. Optional subtitles are available in nearly two dozen languages (fitting, since this is a region-free release), including English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese and more.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

Seen below, the animated menu interface is colorful and easy to navigate. This two-disc Combo Pack arrives in a standard dual-hubbed keepcase with a highly reflective matching slipcover and a Digital Copy redemption insert. Seriously, the slipcover is so reflective that you can see inside your own soul.

Bonus Features

Not as much as the Blu-Ray 3D release, but what's here is pretty good. First up is a four-part Behind-the-Scenes Documentary (1080p, 63 minutes) featuring key members of the cast and crew as they discuss the film's adaptation, development, shooting and effects. The four-year project is condensed rather nicely in just over an hour, giving us a relatively broad overview of what it took to get Life of Pi to the big screen. The visual effects are covered further in "A Remarkable Vision" (1080p, 19 minutes), which features VFX supervisor Bill Westerhofer and company, while "Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright" (1080p, 8 minutes) focuses on the difficult task of creating a lifelike CGI tiger...and, of course, handling the real thing. Finally, we're treated to separate Galleries for select storyboards and pre-production art.

Also packed inside, of course, is a DVD and Digital Copy redemption code, if that floats your boat. The DVD looks and sounds quite good overall, but the only bonus features included are a few trailers.

Final Thoughts

Life of Pi is less of a polarizing experience than I'd originally thought. It travels the well-worn road of "religion vs. reason" with its own unique voice while somehow managing to stand apart from the popular source novel. Even those who don't cotton to the story will undoubtedly be drawn in by its visual effects, which serve to enrich the film's spiritual elements and, on some occasions, act as convincing substitutes. Whether Life of Pi will stand the test of time remains to be seen...but for now, this unlikely blockbuster has a lot going for it. Fox Home Entertainment's Blu-Ray package (also available in 3D) is a suitably strong effort, serving up reference quality A/V presentations and several extras that focus on the film's stunning visual effects. Highly Recommended, though for some a rental will suffice.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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