I first saw “Life Of Pi” in 2D on HBO GO. I thought it was an excellent movie, but I had to see it at the IU Cinema in 3D to truly realize its excellence. Seeing it on the big screen only increased the sense of wonder that director Ang Lee evokes in this movie, particularly in the early scenes. The sequences in the lifeboat are also a vivid tribute to human ingenuity and the struggle to survive.
Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, “Life Of Pi - 3D” is the story of Pi Patel (Gautam Belur, Ayush Tandon Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan) from childhood to adulthood. Forced to leave the India where he grew up, Pi and his family set sail for Canada along with the animals of their zoo. Their ship sinks, however, and Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with a handful of supplies, a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a tiger named Richard Parker. Soon, it is just Pi and Richard Parker left alone on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean. This incredible narrative of survival is also a frame story, as the adult Pi tells his story to a young author (Rafe Spall).
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the greatest things about “Life Of Pi - 3D” is the way it evokes wonder in the viewer. The sequences in India have a charm and vibrant color of their own, and Lee films an Indian religious ceremony particularly well. There is also a lot of fantastical imagery in the scenes at sea; images that practically make your mouth open wide in astonishment. Most of the animals in the boat, too, were created with high tech CGI that sets a new standard for visual effects. The fact that these effects move forward a unique story about faith and survival, instead of adding action to a reboot of a franchise, simply makes them more notable.
This is a fantastical story, full of wonder, yet one of the most seemingly fantastical visual choices is actually one of naturalism. The 3D in this movie is used to further immerse the viewer into this world, which increases interest in how this story will resolve itself. The 3D also enables some delightful moments, as when a hummingbird in the zoo seems to come right up to the viewer’s face.
The performances in this film are also quite good. All of the actors playing Pi do a good job, but it is Suraj Sharma as the teenage Pi who particularly stands out. He has to show how the loss of his family affected him, and he also has to portray the will to survive that sustains his character. He is always engaging, and he perfectly speaks a monologue at the end of the film that throws a little doubt on what happened before. Irrfan Khan is also very good as the adult Pi, particularly in a monologue where he talks about how much Richard Parker meant to him. Even though this is a film where the images have the potential to overshadow the performances, the actors rise to the occasion and make their characters vivid, believable people. Ang Lee also has a cameo as a crewmember in a shot before the Patels encounter a surly chef (Gérard Depardieu).
Incidentally, there was another Ang Lee movie that played at the cinema this semester. It was called “The Ice Storm,” and it is very different from “Life Of Pi - 3D.” “The Ice Storm” is as American as apple pie; “Life Of Pi - 3D” has a decidedly international flavor. “The Ice Storm” is a drama about the forces that threaten to tear apart an American family; “Life Of Pi - 3D” is a family movie that, despite its darkness, is ultimately a tribute to life. The only things that the films share are astounding visual beauty and the ability to prevent the viewer from looking away at the screen. Ang Lee is a very versatile director, and the fact that he can make so different yet equally great films is proof enough of his mastery.