I saw a preview of Life of Pi today. The movie has already opened in the US but does not get released in the UK until 20th December. Now as most people may know who read this website, I am not a great advocate of 3D and feel that it is best suited for use in minor genre and exploitation films. However, the visual aesthetic of Life of Pi and the ground breaking use of CGI and 3D FX work simply cannot be ignored. Like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, a great deal of though has gone into the use of 3D and it is not just about pure spectacle. Therefore if Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel is nominated for a raft of technical awards, then it wholeheartedly deserves to win them.
As for the movie itself, in terms of story telling and an analysis of the human condition, then Life of Pi is very much a mixed bag. The pacing is very sedate, although this is to foster the notion that the audience is experiencing rather than just viewing. The film is meant to be about self discovery, yet not everyone will warm to this approach. Some may find it preachy or unsubtle. However, perhaps this is negated by the fact that Ang Lee is trying to convey universal themes such as survival, loneliness and mortality to an international and diverse audience. Performances by the cast are solid although though this is not an excessively dialogue driven movie.
I would also like to raise the point as to who exactly is the target audience for this movie? A point I also made about Hugo. The PG rating combined with the marketing and a release at a traditional holiday season, may infer that the Life of Pi is a family film. It may well be so with regard to content but its subtext is far from mainstream fodder. I can see a lot of parents misinterpreting this movie and coming home from their local multiplex with a lot of disappointed and bored young children. I have discussed this movie with several colleagues and so far, the group that got the most from Life of Pi are those who were fully aware of it’s plot and subtext before hand.
Although a niche market product, I am still greatly relieved that Life of Pi was made by a director such as Ang Lee. It is not excessively emotionally manipulative and does not allow the commercial notion of Western sentiment to cloud the message. The idea of a more US-centric interpretation of this story makes me cringe. The only major concession I can see that has been made with this movie is the manner in which the ending is presented. The books subtle denoument with it’s commentary on the nature of “choice”, is somewhat belaboured on screen with an extra codicil to ensure that viewers “get it”. It a shame that a film that credits it audience as capable of participating in a vision, makes such a clumsy attempt to explain its meaning, rather than afford them the intelligence to reach their own conclusion.
Overall Life of Pi is a rare dish that may not be to everyone’s palette but will certainly find an appreciative audience among those with experimental tastes. It certainly pushes the boundaries of what can be achieved with current technology and is a pertinent reminder that cinema is not always about a conventional story with pictures and sound. Sometimes it is about an experience that engages not only the senses but the heart as well as mind, to elicit an emotional response and to inspire some personal reflection and meditation.
NB It should be noted that Life of Pi features several scenes of animals praying on other animals. They are not dwelt on but are integral to the plot. A great deal of the animal footage within the movie is computer generated and the production has been endorsed by the AHA. Some people perceive this content as animal cruelty, although I consider this to be an erroneous assumption. However, despite the movies rating, it may well be wise to consider this material before viewing, especially with respect to young children.