Friday, January 18, 2013
LIFE OF PI (2012)
Yann Martel’s beloved 2002 novel about a teenage Indian boy adrift in a lifeboat with a tiger is highly problematic as source material for a film. Against long odds screenwriter David Magee and director Ang Lee have fashioned a faithful and mostly successful screen adaptation, thanks in no small part to exceptional CG tiger effects, David Gropman’s gorgeous production design and ravishing 3-D cinematography by Claudio Miranda. (Here this now-overused technology feels organic and integral.) We first meet Pi as a middle-aged man (played with warmth and quiet gravitas by Irrfan Khan) as he recounts his remarkable story to a Writer (Rafe Spall). The tale begins in Pondicherry, India, where teen Pi (Suraj Sharma) lives with his family and spends much of his time at his father’s zoo, when he isn’t experimenting with every religious faith available to him. His parents (Adil Hussain and Tabu) decide to sell the zoo and transport family and animals (the latter for future sale) via freighter to Canada. During a violent storm the ship sinks, and Pi escapes on a lifeboat with an injured zebra, a vicious hyena, a seasick orangutan, and an adult Bengal tiger whimsically named Richard Parker. Once the storm abates animal instinct takes over, and before long the hyena dispatches the zebra and orangutan then is summarily devoured by the tiger. Pi spends much of the film’s middle section negotiating his survival and co-existence with Richard Parker without becoming tiger or shark food. Lee and his design team use every tool at their disposal to create the movie equivalent of magical realism, from the star-filled night sky reflected in the glass of the vast Pacific Ocean to exotic sea life above and just beneath the water’s surface, leaving the viewer to determine what is real and what is the product of Pi’s fevered imagination. In the central role Sharma is merely adequate, too often overshadowed by his CG companions, and the film never quite achieves transcendence. However, the filmmakers have conjured an often powerful reminder of the life-sustaining and transformative power of a good story. And that itself is a rare enough feat.