Ang Lee makes an overdue return to the big screen with an adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel . It’s a fantasy tale that focuses on the shipwrecked Pi and his survival at sea whilst sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
From the opening scenes in the zoo it is evident that visually the film is astounding. The CGI on display is excellent and the animals in particular are utterly convincing. Tiger Richard Parker’s fur sets a new benchmark for this kind of effect and it’s good to see evidence that CGI may finally be close to delivering on its early promise. The 3D elements on display are also well implemented, the early swimming pool scenes in particular stand out as a fantastic use of the medium, although sadly a couple of gimmicky moments will have you reaching to take your glasses off.
The film’s story is a fantastical one but in the hands of these film-makers is truly believable and emotionally affecting. The book on which this film is based had been branded un-filmable but, reassuringly, those detractors have been proven wrong by the work of script writer David Magee. Another aspect that helps is the decision not to have Pi make friends with Richard Parker, there is no doubt that the tiger is an animal and would kill him without a moment’s hesitation. This decision should be applauded as it would have been all too easy to anthropomorphise the animal to such an extent that the audience would then disengage from a story that is already far-fetched.
It’s not all plain sailing though, the opening third will grate with some people. As Pi is established as a character he is shown to follow multiple religions, play the drums, read Dostoyevsky and be able to solve the mathematic value of π to a ridiculously high number of decimal places. It would be a lot easier to engage with a character that seemed a little more believable as a teenage boy. He is a likeable enough character to begin with and loses his family when the boat sinks and anyone with a heart will pity the character at this point.
The lead character is played excellently by each of the actors who tackle him at different stages of his life but the film really does belong to the performance of just one man – Suraj Sharma plays a good hour of the film single-handedly. Acting against CGI characters doesn’t always deliver the best performances but Sharma is superb throughout and the audience will share every aspect of his emotional journey.
Overall Life of Pi is a very good film that, whilst not being perfect, proves that 3D CGI heavy films can have heart and soul and don’t have to be limited to mindless spectacle. An emotional story that packs a punch and a great lead performance means this is one not to miss.