3D, New Age platitudes look like they are coming straight at you. At least Taiwanese auteur Ang Lee makes them stunning
to behold. The tiger does not hurt
either. Generating significant buzz, Lee’s
they-said-it-couldn’t-be-done adaptation of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi (trailer
opened the 50th New York Film Festival, now underway at several Lincoln
up in India’s French quarter, Pi Patel was named for a Parisian swimming pool,
but embraced mathematics as a means of truncating the embarrassing Piscine. As a boy, religion was his hobby, practicing
Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam Furr’s Cafeteria style (but no love for
Buddhism, evidently). He also picks up a
few animal training pointers from his zookeeper father, which will stand him in
to Patel’s chagrin, his father decides to immigrate to Canada, where he and his
brother will enjoy better future opportunities.
Tragically, their ship sinks en-route, which is how, through an unlikely
set of circumstances, Patel finds himself sharing a life boat with the family’s
ferocious Bengal tiger, Richard Parker.
Pi is not exactly a
story of a boy and his tiger. Despite
the character’s avowed spirituality, he never hopes to change the tiger’s
nature. Richard Parker begins and ends
the film as a wild beast. However, Patel
will attempt to train him with the techniques he learned from his father, in
order to survive. They will not cohabitate
though. Patel will spend most of his
time in a makeshift raft lashed to the lifeboat, ceding the larger vessel to
those who were wondering where Ang Lee has been, he has spent the last four
years or so in a wave tank in Taiwan. Not
surprisingly, the man who helmed Crouching
Tiger has a keen sense of how to incorporate 3D to best serve the on-screen
action. As dramatic as the tiger
sequences are, it is the way he realizes depth and scope that are particularly
arresting. He and his team create a
spectacular fantasy world in the middle of the ocean.
the narrative settles into a second act doldrums, largely repeating its Robinson
Crusoe-Grizzly Adams motifs in what seems like an endless loop. Yet, in contrast to the film’s frequent heavy-handedness,
Lee’s payoff hits the mark, precisely because of his tasteful understatement.
there are many elements that work quite well in Pi, particularly its nostalgic portrayal of French India. For many viewers conditioned by Jewel in the Crown to think of pre-1949
India solely in terms of the British Raj, this is fertile ground, worth
exploring in further films. Lee also
nicely establishes the Patel family history, especially the role played by his
dashing honorary uncle, Mamaji (played by the distinctive Elie Alouf). The wrap-around framing device is also quite effective,
featuring a relatively brief but moving performance from Irffan Khan as the
adult Patel, relating his story to a Martel-like novelist. For hardcore film geeks, Pi even features an unusual aspect ratio shift.
Pi has its merits, but it also illustrates the
perils inherent in films confined to lifeboats.
Visually, it is quite the triumph, but Lee’s young cast-members are not
all some more enthusiastic critics are billing them to be. Ultimately, much of Pi is like a 3D painting—dazzling to soak in, but rather static. Better filmmaking than story-telling, Life of Pi certainly deserves technical consideration
during awards season. Recommended for
those interested in 3D as legitimate creative medium, Life of Pi launched this year’s NYFF on Friday, with a theatrical
opening already scheduled for November 21.
Labels: 3D films, Ang Lee, NYFF '12