Life of Pi Review

The word “unfilmable” is one that is constantly thrown about with adaptations. With the word “adaptation” already provoking some moans and groans at the lack of original ideas in cinema, adaptations deemed unfilmable seem all the more risky.

With new technologies, and with new forward-thinking filmmakers, the idea of unfilmable books appears to be a thing of the past. Even so far back as Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Lolita in 1962, the idea of the unfilmable is that of less creative points of view. Put the novel in a competent director’s hands, and anything is possible.

It even stretches so far into graphic novels, such as Watchmen, but your mileage may vary on the success of that example. Some of the most recent examples of film adaptations of unfilmable books however are Cloud Atlas, coming in the 2013, and Life of Pi, directed by Ang Lee.

Ang Lee has already garnered success as a filmmaker, having brought the martial arts epic to the mainstream with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and breaking new ground with representation in the critically acclaimed Brokeback Mountain, even taking the first modern attempt at adapting the Hulk for the big screen. It is with Life of Pi however, where Lee reaches new ground.

Based on a novel written by Yann Martel in 2001, the main crux of the story is that of a sixteen-year old from India called Piscine Molitor Patel (known better as the titular Pi, played by Suraj Sharma) and his troubles on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with nothing but supplies and a troublesome Bengal tiger called Richard Parker. As Pi and tiger try to survive the open ocean, completely stranded, Pi learns much about himself, survival, and God.

Framing this main story, Life of Pi uses a writer (played by Rafe Spall), who has come to meet with an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) in order to talk to him about the events in the lifeboat. Irrfan Khan is a real highlight, giving a fantastic performance that continues to prove how adept an actor he is. The way he speaks to the writer and the way he delivers the story is powerful, meaningful and perfect. Sadly, Spall is not as on form, thanks in part to the movie needing his character to be a Canadian, and Spall fails to deliver a convincing portrayal.

But the real draw here is Sharma in his role as Pi. As a teenager who is forced to fend for himself while under the constant fear of Richard Parker, the deadly tiger in his midst, Sharma gives a powerful performance that exhibits the entire development of innocent younger sibling to independent young man, finding himself and finding his faith in God’s will.

With no other human characters for the majority of the movie, Sharma still continues to give the audience entertainment, suspense, relief and joy. Playing against a cast made almost entirely of animals; Sharma’s Pi captures everything one would assume being in a situation like that would be like. The way he interacts with his animal co-stars is realistic and effective. We feel his fear, and we can feel ourselves learn the same lessons he does, and we can immerse ourselves into that world.

And it is a very beautiful world. Ang Lee has helped visualise a world full of colour and transparency, where shots flow into each other like the very waters Pi sails on. The transitions are seamless, and the narrative delivered by the adult Pi and how it jumps through time is a testament to the writing and the editing.

The effects are stunning; with colours being vibrant and mood-relevant with smart uses of camera-placement and even the letterbox format in order to deliver an even more powerful visual impact. From the big set piece that kicks off the second act onwards, the world of the young Pi becomes drastically more storybook and stunning, showing a world of wonder, of weather, and of wildlife.

Overall Life of Pi is a stunning movie, and a wonderful adaptation of yet another book critics once deemed unfilmable. It works, and it works well. Life of Pi is a movie that celebrates the very idea of storytelling, and Ang Lee uses his own visual storytelling to help create a wonderful interpretation of this story about stories, one that is a pleasure to watch and experience.

Life of Pi is out in cinemas now. It stars Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Rafe Spall. Ang Lee directs the film, itself based on the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The adapted screenplay is written by David Magee.

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