Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Life Of Pi - A Film Review

Many years ago, I read Yann Martel's award-winning novel and (gasp!) did not like it.

My feelings about this ranged from guilt and self-doubt to pure confusion. Over time, my impression of the story faded to a mere wisp of a memory.

When news about Lee Ang's movie adaptation surfaced, my first reaction was "Why?", followed by "How?", because the one thing I did remember about Life Of Pi was that it's impossible to translate to the big screen.

So why did I make it my mission to see it at the cineplex?

One: the AWESOME, jaw-dropping trailer, which was shown before a recent screening of Skyfall. There's this short segment with a killer whale leaping over Pi's boat, shimmering against the night sky, suspended in mid-air for what seems like an eternity.
I don't recall such a scene in the book. What page is it on?!

Two: Lee Ang. ( Yes, I believe in addressing him by his correct name rather than the reverse version favoured by Westerners. )
I've been a fan of his work for 20 years now, having watched his early films - The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman - before moving on to Sense And Sensibility; The Ice Storm; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Hulk, and Brokeback Mountain.
His track record has been spotty at times, but no-one can deny his immense versatility. If anybody could tackle Life Of Pi, it would be him.

The final result: an ASTOUNDING masterpiece filled with humour, poignance and imagery so stunning it brought tears to my eyes.

And get this - my mother, who dozed off during Skyfall ( Skyfall for pete's sake! ) was wide awake for the entire duration of Life Of Pi. She absolutely LOVED the movie. :)

There're numerous interpretations of the real meaning(s) behind this unconventional tale, and every viewer is entitled to his/her own opinions.

Philosophy isn't my strong point, but attempts at analyzing my overwhelmingly positive response to the film suggest an affinity with its religious themes.

I suspect that if I'd seen this more than 10 years ago, I wouldn't have been the slightest bit moved. Amused and entertained perhaps, but ultimately incapable of identifying with the main characters' turmoil.

And yes, there're 2 protagonists here, one of whom has no dialogue but is nevertheless larger than life. Pi may be the focus of everyone's attention, but Richard Parker, the magnificent Bengal tiger, is brought to vivid life through amazing computer-generated effects, and worthy of his own Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Rendered beautifully by Bill Westenhofer ( already an Oscar winner for The Golden Compass, and who also worked on The Chronicles Of Narnia ) and his fantastic team, RP is - for me at least - by far the story's most compelling figure.

Of course, we mustn't overlook Suraj Sharma, who plays the teenage Pi. It is indeed mind-boggling that this is his first role, because he is remarkably gifted. Remember Dev Patel, who shot to international fame with Slumdog Millionaire? That is nothing compared to Life Of Pi, in which Sharma acts with, well, thin air. When you consider this fact as you watch the movie unfold, you will truly appreciate the depth of his talent. Lee is, without a doubt, an expert director, but Sharma's performance is extraordinary, and I hope his future in acting will soar to even greater heights.

It's hard to pin down a specific source of enjoyment because there're just too many to count. A superb cast and memorable characters top the list, but Claudio Miranda's cinematography adds an additional magical quality, mixing vibrant colours with gorgeous shots of Mother Nature in all her glory.

The opening credits sequence - a serene montage that blends Mychael Danna's evocative Pi's Lullaby with scenes depicting a variety of exotic animals engaging in normal daily activities - is a wonderful prelude to the miracles that follow. Perhaps most viewers didn't think much of these few short minutes, but I was completely hypnotized.

Time to download the movie soundtrack! :)

My great love of Nature also adds to the enjoyment. Life Of Pi is packed with flora, fauna and an entire spectrum of climates ( terrifying storms, a dazzling rainbow, you name it ). Aside from the breath-taking tiger and whale, there're otherworldly jellyfish, an eye-popping flying fish attack, and - a personal fave - hordes of meerkats carpeting a vast forest floor as Pi carefully tiptoes his way through the sea of furry creatures.

Last but not least, the theme of religion. I, too, identify with Pi's soul-searching journey, having found Christianity in my mid-20s after a number of traumatic, life-altering events. I can't fully explain my experience in words, but I'm sure anyone who's ever felt conflicted about the existence of God in any form, who eventually found what s/he was looking for, or whose quest is far from over, will grasp the film's message and be enriched by it.

Every once in a long while, if you're lucky, you encounter something so awesome it either completely changes your worldview ( preferably for the better! ), or reinforces a conviction that you once thought was slipping through your fingers.

Life Of Pi, wondrous jewel that it is, accomplishes both feats simultaneously. It is moving and uplifting in both its quietest and grandest moments, far surpassing 2011's The Artist, matching The English Patient's epic scope as well as Dead Poets Society's intimacy.

It is likely to be 2012's best film and an Oscar front runner in early 2013.
I sincerely hope Lee Ang wins another Best Director honour. He really deserves it.

10/10. Do not miss. :)

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