Life of PiIf you’re looking for a visual treat with nary a machine gun, super-powered billionaire or hobbit in sight, this may just be the film you’re looking for.

Ang Lee has always been a visually diverse director. Since his western arrival he’s created a body of work that contains almost no reference to his previous films. Just look at his most notable works: In Sense and Sensibility (1995) he adopted a very nostalgic, British style. With Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) he adopted energetic yet mythic-realist visuals before amping up the primary colours and trying out some crazy camerawork and visuals in the underrated Hulk (2003) Then it was the washed-out restraint of Brokeback Mountain.

Here Lee has adopted a real fairy-tale aesthetic, turning the bright colours up even more than Hulk while playing with some commanding yet complicated camera movement.

The visual power of Life of Pi is the real star of the fim, with some truly bombastic set-pieces for Pi (Suraj Sharma) and Bengal tiger Richard Parker to endure. The shipwreck that entwines Pi and Richard Parker together is particularly well done. Spectacularly violent and destructive, the wreck is brilliantly executed with skillful editing meaning the chaos of the disaster is fully realised while we’re still able to keep a handle on what’s actually happening. Similar scenes of destruction are also powerfully realised, with the massive storming being a standout.

Also brilliantly created are scenes of nature at its most beautiful. Moments such as a sea of glowing jellyfish in the night, the flight of a shoal of flying-fish and the motionless, mirror-like sea of the doldrums are gorgeously realised, making especially good use of 3D. Yes, Life of Pi  really is a film to give those who blindly reject 3D pause for thought on its merit. Here it really enhances the narrative, be that to emphasize the bleak beauty of the doldrums, the tumultuous carnage of a storm or the might of a blue whale.

But it’s not just the visuals that shine in Life of PiWhile there’s plenty of artistic CGI to admire here, we’ve kind of been over computer generated characters the moment a certain ring-obsessed hobbit gone wrong appeared on the silver screen. The real achievement with this film’s computer creature Richard Parker isn’t his digital make-up but how captivating his interactions with Pi are. As the only two characters for the most of the film writer David Magee manages to make Pi and his relationship with the tiger tense, frightening  compassionate and moving while keeping things utterly believable.


The devastating effects of ocean chemical dumping.

I don’t know all that much about tiger behavior but the amount of time Magee allows to pass as Pi and Richard Parker begin to understand each other and their situation together really helps us believe they could eventually co-exist. It’s not at all a straight fairy-tale relationship, with Richard Parker never anthropomorphized and always behaving like a wild, flesh-eating animal first.

Life of Pi

Richard Parker is officially the best name for a tiger.

Suraj Sharma also puts in an enjoyable performance. While its not a performance for the ages, perhaps hamstrung by his character’s earnestness, he does hold the screen for the length of the picture, which is no mean feat when its just you and a tiger.

The story is great; its impressive how many varied and unexpected things the filmmakers come up with in the middle of the ocean beyond maelstroms and sharks. The way it gently strays more and more into fairy-tale before hitting some bizarre territory might seem jarring, but that’s a testament to just how believable  they make a boy on a boat with a tiger.

Life of Pi is a wonderful film and is most worthy of its best picture nomination at this year’s Oscars. And if it doesn’t win that, at least it’ll win over a few of the 3D naysayers.

By RJ Bayley.


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