Monday, January 28, 2013

Life of Pi (2012)

Every once in awhile, you simply have to eat crow.

From the time Life of Pi first became a best selling book by Yann Martel, nothing I read about the story made me the least bit interested in it. The title even turned me off. Then it was announced that it was going to be a movie and that it would be directed by Ang Lee, one of my favorite directors.

I still had no interest in seeing a movie about a young man who spends weeks adrift on a raft in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger.

The movie opened to rapturous critical acclaim and good box office. Nope, I still was not interested. In fact, when I had the opportunity to take two young friends to the movies who had already seen Wreck-It Ralph, I opted for the very mediocre Rise of the Guardians over Life of Pi. (Admittedly, at that point I did figure that I wouldn't have disliked Life of Pi any less than I cared for Rise of the Guardians). But I still held firm in my refusal to see the movie Life of Pi. And in my (meager) defense, I hadn't talked to anyone else who had seen Life of Pi or wanted to see it.

And then Life of Pi garnered 11 Oscar nominations.

What a quandary for a dedicated Oscar-phile! I try to see every film nominated for an Oscar in a major category, and now one that I actively didn't want to see piled up a slew of nominations -- including Best Picture and Best Director for Lee. I knew then that I was going to have to see Life of Pi. But I wasn't happy about the prospect.

Maybe it's better to have poor expectations for a movie. In today's climate, it's hard to go into a film and have no expectations because the publicity machine always starts with a film's pre-production and my awareness about many movies is often high. At any rate, I was captivated by Life of Pi from the moment the movie started. Ang Lee certainly has an eye for how to fill a screen; so many of his shots are gorgeous. All of the production values were first rate -- the score, the cinematography, the editing, the special effects. Lee's Best Director nomination was well-deserved.

One word about the special effects. The move was filmed in 3-D, and it is one film that I wish I had seen in 3-D. I didn't, but it looked to me like some of the effects would have been spectacular in 3-D.

I found that I was interested in the story, too. I think it it difficult to maintain interest in a story with only one or two characters, and the last time that I remember enjoying a film that had large sections of it devoted to one human was in 2000's Cast Away. The acting in the movie was fine, though no performance was exceptional. The only person in the cast who I recognized was French superstar Gerard Depardieu, I liked the earnestness of Suraj Sharma, who played young Pi, and the screen presence of Rafe Spall, who played the writer interviewing the older Pi.

There is a flaw in the film that frustrated me to no end near the end of this otherwise remarkable film. There is a long monologue by Irrfan Khan, who plays the older Pi. In this monologue, which is a constant close-up shot to begin with, the adult Pi describes some events that may or may not be important. My point is that this was all told in verbal narrative, and a flashback type of device that could have showed as well as told would have been a much less dull method of storytelling. This scene as is brought the film to a deadly stop at a crucial point in the movie. Accordingly, I have to award Life of Pi an A-, even if it did exceed my expectations in a big way.

Crow like this tastes pretty good!

I watched this film at the Pullman Square Marquee Cinemas with my buddy Bruce.


  1. I haven't seen Life of Pi and to this point have felt an active disinterest much as you describe, so maybe I should give it a try too!

  2. Paula, I still struggle with actually recommending Life of Pi. While I ended up enjoying the film a lot more than I thought I would, it still strikes me as a movie that would not be universally admired -- at least among my circle of friends.

  3. I'll accept those caveats and if I see it I'll let you know what I think. For the first time in years I've seen a lot of the nominated films and would like to get a few more in before the Oscars.