Editor’s note: This is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Chris Thomson of Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop
The trailers did nothing for me, absolutely nothing. Sure, it looked quite pretty, but it seemed like little more than that. Oh, and the excessive use of Coldplay (in the UK trailer, at least) pretty much confirmed my disinterest.
I know, I should really know better than to judge a book by its cover, especially when it’s an award-winning book revered by many. But I did, and I was fairly convinced I wouldn’t be checking it out. Then the reviews started rolling in and most of them were positive. Really positive.
So I decided to take the plunge (as much as deciding to go to the cinema is taking a plunge) and check it out, and I’m very glad I did. Quite simply, Life of Pi was one of the most memorable cinema experiences I’ve had in quite some time.
For those who aren’t aware, plot thus: Pi (Suraj Sharma) and his family are relocating their family zoo from India to Canada when their boat is sunk in a huge storm. Pi survives by finding his way to a lifeboat where he is joined by a freaking great Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. Pi must do what he can to overcome his hunger, thirst, loneliness, and the fact that he has to live with a creature that could tear his face off in an instant.
Adapted from Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning book, Life of Pi was considered unfilmable. But we’ve heard that before, haven’t we? Nothing’s unfilmable these days thanks to CGI and a clever director. Here, not only has Ang Lee managed to bring the text to the big screen, but he’s done so with aplomb.
Much has been made of Life of Pi’s visuals and they really are stunning. From the outset, we are treated to gorgeously rendered animals, before moving onto the superbly realised storm and sinking of the ship. Then there’s Richard Parker, our stripy feline friend. The CGI for Richard Parker is absolutely sublime and you soon forget that it’s not a real tiger (sometimes it is, but you struggle to tell the difference).
Even when you quite clearly know it’s all CGI, you’re so invested in the world that’s been created that it really doesn’t matter. Masses of bioluminescent sea creatures being gobbled up by a huge whale under a backlit punctured canvas? Sounds majestic but looks even better.
And then there’s the 3D. Some people hate it, whilst others tolerate it (does anyone love it?) but Life of Pi is one of the best uses of the third dimension yet. Ang Lee has clearly put thought into how best to use the medium and it shows. There’s the odd cheap sticky out pole moment but much of the 3D adds real depth to the environment, highlighting the vastness of the ocean and drawing you into Pi’s world.
Fortunately, the film is much more than just a pretty face. It has a story that tests the old grey matter just as much as it pleases the eyes, and that’s what really sets it apart. One of its main themes is that of religion and believing in God. However, it raises these issues with intelligence and respect rather than ramming them down your throat, allowing it to be accessible to pretty much everyone. For those who want a reasonably straightforward story about a young man’s fight for survival, then you can take it at face value, but if you want something a little deeper about spirituality and the search for a higher power, then there’s that to dwell upon also. Some have said that the film’s conclusion spells things out a little too much but I think it gets it spot on. Not everyone is going to get the layered narrative and multiple metaphors and so there’s enough explanation to shed some light on the main points, but there is still plenty to think about for those who don’t like things spelled out for them.
In terms of performances, Suraj Sharma really deserves some recognition. At first sight it’s a decent performance; he does well to convey his loneliness, anger, frustration, despair, but when you consider for the most part he’s acting to absolutely nothing at all, his performance takes on another dimension. There’s no tiger, no shipwreck, no nothing for much of the film. Most of it was filmed in a water tank with nothing much else, so to act as if you’re on an endless ocean with a Bengal tiger whilst flying fish hit you from all angles is quite a feat.
Life of Pi is probably middle of the pack when it comes to actually winning the Best Picture Oscar. It would be somewhat of a shock if it did manage to beat the likes of Lincoln and Les Miserables but if the Academy did fancy choosing an outsider, Life of Pi would be very deserving.