RETROREVIEWS #20: LIFE OF PI (2012)

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MAY 27, 2013 SCREENING: LIFE OF PI (2012)

 

I didn’t know Hindu’s say ‘Amen’ ”   “Catholic Hindu’s do.”

 

That’s is one of the more intriguing dialogue exchanges in the film “Life of Pi”. What’s truly fascinating about this film is that it’s really whatever type of film the viewer interprets it as. Is “Life of Pi” a bizarre, large-than-life fantasy film? Is it an adventure & drama story taking place in the “real world”? Both interpretations are valid after watching the events of the movie unfold.

 

Like many people who have watched Life of Pi, I went into the film without much knowledge about what the film would be about, aside from the fact that the poster showed some Indian guy on a boat with a tiger. That event does indeed take up a large portion of the screen time, and it’s even the certain part of the film’s story, but Life of Pi is so much more than that. The framing story shows a Canadian journal interviewing a middle aged Indian man, Pi Patel, about his life story. How he got the name “Pi” and why he considers himself to be a Hindu, Catholic, and Muslims simultaneously are equally intriguing back stories before we get to the central event with him being trapped on a boat with a tiger.

 

Much of the things that Pi describes in his life story are things “theoretically” happen, but come across as larger-than-life and truly bizarre. When he concludes the tale, he explains to the journalist that he told the story many times before when he was asked how he survived being stranded, but nobody believed him. He was then forced to come up with a fictional version of events that would be “more believable”. The alternate story of what “really happened” is more plausible, but, as the journalist notes, ultimately more boring. Which version do you want to believe?

 

What really floored me after viewing this movie is how the most “realistic” scenes in the movie – namely, some of the face to face interaction with the tiger and other animals – were completely fake. Of course, the film itself doesn’t present them as “fake” in any way, but the manner in which the film created those effects was faked with CGI. I was shocked to learn after screening the movie that over 80% of the tiger scenes were entirely done with CGI, including all of the boat scenes. I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you, but when you see the movie, you’ll swear up and down that you’re seeing a real tiger in that boat, and presume the scenes were accomplished with some type of excellent animal trainer.

 

I often criticize the modern trend of using too much CGI in place of practical effects in movies. Life of Pi, along with films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes, give an example where CGI is actually used correctly. Instead of creating video game like over-the-top action scenes, it creates a photo-realistic depiction of an animal an actually fools the audience into thinking the person on screen is interacting with one. Both the special effects and story in this film were razor sharp and complemented each other immensely.

 

The best part in this review is I can be one of the few critics who is unbiased because the director happens to be Ang Lee. Most critics consider him to be some of genius, whereas Ang Lee’s films haven’t done anything for me in the past. I haven’t seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I have zero interest in seeing Brokeback Mountain, I enjoyed The Ice Storm, and I hated Ang Lee’s overwrought and boring take on superhero’s in 2003’s Hulk (which, unlike this film ,had terrible CGI). Given that track record I have with the director, I can say with confidence that I thought Life of Pi was brilliant. But sorry Ang, I still have no plans to see Brokeback Mountain anytime soon.

 

*** ½ out of ****

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