03 December 2012

Pi in the Sky

It is rare that I go into a movie knowing nothing--or close to nothing--about it, but somehow I have remained ignorant of Ang Lee's new film, The Life of Pi. I got a free copy of the e-book version of Yann Martel's novel, on which the film is based, but I guess I've never been short enough of reading material to give it a go.

In any case, I had a ticket to a free preview screening of the film at my new local Odeon and so off I trekked yesterday morning. It was supposed to be a 2D screening, but as they were sent the wrong version of the film, we were "upgraded" to 3D, as the usher put it. Dr Kermode would question the use of upgrade here and on this occasion, I'm inclined to agree. Other than the, admittedly, visually impressive opening sequence and a few other bits, the 3D was completely unnecessary.

Now, onto the film. I liked it, actually, even though it surpassed the two-hour mark. I like all the Ang Lee films I've seen, but then I've only watched The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution. The Life of Pi starts of as a sort of mash-up of Slumdog Millionaire and We Bought a Zoo, with a dash of Titanic and The Tree of Life thrown in along the way for good measure. It's sweet and engaging and very, very aesthetically pleasing.

In present-day Canada, a writer in search of inspiration and a good story (Rafe Spall) meets with Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) who, he has been told, has a story that is so remarkable it may make him believe in god. Before he gets started, though, Pi tells the writer how he got his unusual name (not because his parents loved mathematics). And it's as Pi begins to tell various stories about his childhood that we start to think we are solidly in Slumdog territory, but then he gets into the real story. When Pi is a teenager, his parents decide to move the whole family, including the animals from the zoo they own, to Canada, but after a terrible storm, Pi is left alone on a lifeboat with a an orang utan, a zebra, a hyena and a Bengal tiger who, due to a "clerical error," is named Richard Parker. Even at the film's most intense moments, hearing Pi call the tiger by his full name still manages to be faintly comic.

We know Pi survives, of course, but what happens along the way? And what happens to the tiger? And to Pi's fickle faith in a variety of gods? I'm not going to get into the spiritual aspects of the film, but suffice to say that as an atheist with little interest in spirituality or theology, I still found plenty to enjoy in this movie. The actor playing the teeenage Pi, Suray Sharma, is great, although often reminiscent of Dev Patel in Slumdog. And the beautiful and often terrifying (and mostly CGI) tiger often steals the show. There is Oscar buzz about this film, but I don't think it will win any of the major awards--not least because it's too soon after Slumdog and because there is a lot of competition this year. Cinematography, perhaps, or most comical blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo by a Frenchman for GĂ©rard Depardieu?

A couple of other points of interest:
  1. Didn't Ang Lee say after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that he would never work with children or animals again? I guess CGI tigers are less demanding...
  2. Who would have thought how much hotter Rafe Spall would be playing a character who isn't intensely irritating, and with a nice haircut and a North American accent?

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