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Life of Pi Works Visual Magic, Awesome Storytelling

Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee
Written by David Magee from the novel by Yann Martel
Fox, 2012

Life of Pi comes on the heels of Cloud Atlas, both of which come from novels considered “unfilmable.”  And for some reason Fox had a real hard time marketing Life of Pi, I guess hoping that everyone who read the book would just be happy a movie came out and then saying, “Screw you” to people who hadn’t read the book, because they didn’t give us much with the trailers other than, “This is a visual masterpiece!  Look at all the colors and stuff!”  The ads told us it was “the next Avatar,” which is a fun thing to say from a marketing standpoint because Avatar made so much money and has lots of followers and was distributed by the same company, Fox.  But Avatar was pretty much garbage.  It ushered in a whole bunch of other movies that thought they just had to add 3D and people would flock to it.  Life of Pi is way better than Avatar, for the record, but it might not even make a tenth of that movie’s money.

The movie centers around Pi Patel (played as a teenager by Suraj Sharma, and as the adult narrator by Irrfan Khan), a man who has survived a shipwreck in mythical fashion, a story so incredible that it’s hard to believe.  That is why a writer (Rafe Spall) is here, to get the full story, possibly write a novel out of it.  Pi speaks of his mother telling him a story when he was young about a kid eating dirt, the kid denying it to his mother, and the mother asking her child to open his mouth.  What does she see?  It’s something wonderful, something unexpected.  This lays the groundwork for The Life of Pi.

Pi lives with his brother Ravi (played at different ages by Ayan Khan and Vibish Sivakumar), his mother Gita (Tabu), and father Santosh (Adil Hussain).  The Patels own a zoo, but finances become such that Santosh needs to sell the animals and move to Canada, which means all the animals get put on a boat in the movie’s allusion to Noah’s Ark.  A huge storm comes and the boat is in trouble.  Before you know it, Pi is on a lifeboat with an ailing zebra, a hyena, a rat, and most alarmingly, a tiger.

Seeing Pi figure out how to survive in the middle-of-nowhere Pacific Ocean with an untamed Tiger is exciting and fun.  You might not believe all of Pi’s story, which is the point.  The idea is that the story is about storytelling.  And the story we get is very interesting, and yes, visually appealing.  It’s kind of a dick move to even compare this movie to AvatarLife of Pi runs circles around that movie in almost every way.

No surprise: Ang Lee has always been a very good filmmaker, able to tell good stories and provide great visuals, like he did with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Other, smaller, less fantastical movies like The Ice Storm, Sense & Sensibility, and Brokeback Mountain has the same qualities.  He’s one of the best, and we don’t cite him nearly as much as we probably should when it comes to today’s best filmmakers.

I’m not really going to discuss much more about Life of Pi.  I went into the movie without knowing everything and came out better for it.  If you liked Cast Away, or even something like Slumdog Millionaire (I know, I must be comparing the two movies because of the Indian actors, but that’s not entirely true), you’ll like this.  In fact, if you didn’t like those two movies, you might still like this.

By the way, 2012 is shaping up to be one of the best movie years in a long, long time.  Everything I’ve been watching lately has restored some of my faith in movies.

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