Very few directors can capture such beauty on camera like Ang Lee. He’s a gifted storyteller that uses the medium to visually speak and connect with his audience in a way unlike anyone else. Life of Pi is Lee’s first digitally shot 3D film and it looks absolutely dazzling and perfect for the tired format, but Lee chooses to focus so much on perfecting the art of shooting in 3D that he nearly forgets about the story, making Life of Pi a lifeless adventure that focuses on the journey of one character lost at sea, but somehow gets lost in the shuffle while doing so.
Pi Patel (played by Irrfan Khan and Suraj Sharma) is a rambunctious kid with the whole world in front of his eyes. The film follows his life-changing journey from boyhood into manhood as he gets lost at sea and soon realizes the true meaning of life, faith and persevering when times get rough and hard to manage.
Director Ang Lee fills the screen with shots that are rich and deep and downright impressive on a visual level. His use of 3D pushes the medium forward and makes Life of Pi an event film that must be experienced at a theater and in 3D. There’s just no other way to do this film justice.
Lee soaks up the scenery and extends the depth of his shots to make for a fruitful experience. He does this by always moving the camera and keeping the audience guessing, which is a key ingredient for a film that spends a bulk of its time on a small boat with a tiger and a human being. Lee does his best to never wear out the frame or make a scene feel repetitive or exhausting and he’s also got great help from young actor Suraj Sharma.
Sharma carries the film for the most part, with Irrfan Khan (playing the older version of Pi) helping to add that emotional impact towards the end to tie everything together. The two share equal importance, but Sharma shines brighter due to the amount of screen time he’s given. He helps ground the character of Pi in reality and gives him many relatable traits that makes the journey worth investing into. It’s not an easy task to be the sole actor on the screen for long stretches of time, but Sharma seems comfortable steering the ship in any direction Lee points. Without him this film could have easily been lost at sea.
Life of Pi is a gorgeous film to look at and I almost feel bad to comment negatively on it, because it really is worth checking out for the visuals alone. There’s just not much else to be found. The film is based on the novel of the same name, which I haven’t read, but already feel like I know inside and out. It doesn’t pack any punches and plays straight-forward with the best intentions. The ending can be telegraphed from a mile away and even though the film’s greater message isn’t about surprising you or delivering something you’ve never seen before, I still didn’t feel the slightest amount of care for the particular story being told and that almost upsets me.
Ang Lee stretches his muscles as a filmmaker and gives Life of Pi that much-needed vision to succeed and Irrfan Khan and Suraj Sharma turn in two closely sincere performances, but for what? I’m still trying to figure out where it went wrong when there was so much going right.
Life of Pi boasts perfect 3D and one epic storm sequence that will surely be remembered as demo material when it hits Blu-ray, but aside from Lee’s successful direction and a pair of good performances, the film registers as nothing more than another “you won’t believe it” life-altering story that doesn’t really stick with you as much as you’d think it would. It’s a profound story that only stays afloat because of the technical achievements and not so much the writing behind it.
Those more close to the source material might be able to defend Life of Pi as something extraordinary, but the rest of us are stuck with another Avatar situation, where the film looks great and can only really be viewed at the proper theater with the best 3D setup, but the story has been done before.
Life of Pi – 7/10
*This is all coming from someone that knows nothing about the novel it’s based upon, so I have not drawn comparisons as to how close it sticks to the book or how many liberties Lee takes with the material. I’m solely commenting on the film I watched without knowing anything about it beforehand.