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Irrfan Khan
Suraj Sharma
Adil Hussain.
Ang Lee.
David Magee.
Running Time
126 mins minutes

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Life Of Pi
A hyena, an orangutan and a tiger walk into a bar…

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While travelling on a boat from India to Canada, Pi (Sharma), his family and all the animals from their zoo are thrown to the sea in a terrible storm. Only Pi survives, drifting for weeks in a lifeboat with the dubious company of a vicious tiger as both fight for survival.

Life Of Pi
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We should probably stop deeming any book ‘unfilmable’. All the big ones that seemed impossible are toppling: The English Patient, Naked Lunch, Cloud Atlas, Watchmen, The Lord Of The Rings. From now on, let’s just trust that a sufficiently and necessarily peculiar mind can draw a visual story out of any novel. There are several things about Yann Martel’s Life Of Pi that suggest it couldn’t be realised on screen: it’s largely set on a small boat adrift in the ocean, inhabited only by a young man and a tiger...well, really, do you need further reasons? It requires a tiger that will follow direction and a way of making bobbing about in water interesting for close to two hours, with only one person speaking. Actually, what it needs is Ang Lee, who makes this enormously complicated film look like the simplest thing in the world.

As with almost anything that looks simple, it’s taken a lot of work to get here. It’s been almost a decade since Fox first acquired the rights to adapt Martel’s book, back in 2003, and since then M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón and Jean-Pierre Jeunet have all dipped their feet in its treacherous waters before deciding it wasn’t for them. Even Lee has been working on the film since 2009, with writer David Magee, whose script untangles Martel’s story with enormous elegance and gentle humour. That time has clearly been used well to create something that as a spectacle seems unlike anything previously seen in cinema (technically, it could not have been made ten years ago) and as a piece of storytelling unfolds just about perfectly.

The story starts in Pondicherry, India, where Piscine Patel, named after a French swimming pool and compelled to change his name to a mathematical constant in order to staunch persistent bullying (it’s not nearly so twee as it sounds), lives in a zoo with his family. As the zoo business dries up, the Patel family decide to move to Canada, flog their animals and start a new life. But a storm sinks the ship carrying them to their new home and leaves Pi adrift in a lifeboat with first a few, then even fewer animals, his chief companion being the zoo’s tiger, Richard Parker, an animal who’d prefer a large meal to a shipmate. This story is told by a middle-aged Pi to a writer (Rafe Spall), in a present-day setting that bookends the film.

Lee is always in complete control of the story. This feels like the work of a director not only at his most confident and creative but also enjoying himself more than he ever has before. Typically, even when his stories are those of passion there is something a little chilly in the grace of Lee’s films. Think of The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain or even Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and they’re largely characterised by aching restraint with occasional bursts of emotion. Life Of Pi bursts early on and keeps expanding.

With the flat ocean providing what is essentially a blank canvas, Lee, along with cinematographer Claudio Miranda and an effects team who cannot be praised enough, runs wild with imagery, such as a whale looming up through waters full of glowing jellyfish, Pi silhouetted against the drowned ship or the motionless water creating a perfect mirror image of the sky above. You could rip almost any shot off the screen and hang it in a gallery. And Lee uses 3D — a tool many directors wield like a sledgehammer — in much the same way James Cameron did with Avatar or Martin Scorsese with Hugo. Lee, like those directors, considers each shot on three planes, rather than just framing a standard scene then thrusting something at the audience to justify the additional cost. But all this beauty is not merely for beauty’s sake. This is most definitely a film about something. In a sense, it’s a film about everything.

Belief is at the story’s centre, which sounds dreadfully homeworky and preachy but it truly isn’t. It’s throwing out questions, not pretending to have the answers. Though religion is a repeated touchstone, this doesn’t seem to be a film about believing in any particular god — in a smartly written dinner scene Pi explains exactly why he chooses to believe in all gods, from all religions — it’s about believing in something, be it God or science. There’s a sort of magic in both, so it just depends whether you like your magic tricks explained or prefer to believe in the ethereal. Imagine the work of Terrence Malick, but with added laughs.

There’s a degree of that confusing magic in Lee’s direction, too. There are a number of scenes in which it is all but impossible to fathom how they were achieved. One of these is the sinking of the ship carrying Pi and his family, which stands proud alongside anything you might have seen in any summer blockbuster. As it goes from the flooded bowels of the ship to Pi leaping into a lifeboat, which swiftly plummets into the squalling waves thanks to a fractious zebra, then crashing about above and below the water, it’s impossible to see the joins. Initially you’re trying to work out how it was done, but then you’re just thrilled that it was. There are numerous similar moments.

A great deal is asked of Suraj Sharma in his first role. Three actors play Pi at different ages and each is worthy of high praise, but Sharma, as the teenage Pi, is unforgettable. For about three quarters of the film he is playing to nothing. At least, it must be assumed that he is; the effects work on the tiger is so utterly convincing that although there is surely a real tiger used in some scenes it would take a very well trained eye, or the tiger’s own mother, to pick it out. So this is really a one-man show for Sharma and he blasts it. Whether screaming in fury or saying nothing at all, he never hits a false note. It’s a blazing debut.

Life Of Pi exists on the bleeding edge of technology and every penny of its budget is on screen, yet it isn’t a film from which you’re likely to take memories of a single money shot or sequence. There’s too much going on to separate isolated moments; it’s all impressive pieces in a unified puzzle. This is a director laying out both the world around us, and the possibilities of cinema to present it, and asking: isn’t this amazing?

To produce a coherent film from Martel’s tricky novel would be achievement enough, but Ang Lee has extracted something beautiful, wise and, at times, miraculous.

Reviewed by Olly Richards

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Average user rating for Life Of Pi
Empire Star Rating

Life of Pi

Glorious, gorgeous, beautifully-told storytelling. This could be a masterclass in how you tell a story simply, movingly and with compassion and empathy. Marvellous. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Cookiedough at 12:09, 22 September 2014 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

of Pi (2012) So many book adaptation these days! Ang Lee is fast becoming a master of lavish epic stories, stories with international spice. This new film bears all the hallmarks of a foreign film to be honest, I was surprised to discover it was American made, amazed in fact. The story is told in part by narration from the main character, who is an adult. He is telling a writer about his fantastical story, about his early years in India and his families decision to immigrate to Canada. ... More

Posted by Phubbs at 06:11, 22 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

You said exactly what I was thinking and wanted to share - so now I don't need to post! We loved the way the ending left you thinking and wondering which story was the true one. Now I want to read the book. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bossis at 14:33, 13 April 2013 | Report This Post

First time of Ang Lee on 3D?? WOW

The film is wonderful, that's all I can say. Ang lee outdone itself with this film, and of course David Magee (screenplay). Both managed to carry the book more indecipherable already done by Yann Martel, and turned it into something simple ... a 16 years in a boat with a wild tiger in the middle of the pacific ocean, simple as that. The story is realy about the "Life of Pi", Piscine Patel is a very smart guy, bulying sufferer, who during his life had learned many religions and took all as his... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ralph25 at 15:39, 12 April 2013 | Report This Post

Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi proves that not all epics consist of tons of characters and extras. Just a young Indian boy with his CGI friend. Whether this film is real or not, the question must never be answered. Its all real. Life of Pi asks us to take a journey with a young boy Pi and a Bengal tiger Richard Parker across the harsh ocean that they endure as this epic. Creating this grand adventure so cinematically bold, one feels as though they are venturing on the small boat with Pi and Richard. I watched this... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BJORNtheBLU at 16:00, 01 April 2013 | Report This Post

RE: I give it slighly over 3.14...........

Well, now you're getting to the nub of it, and it's the reason why this film may not get great word of mouth, as it will lead to a 'So, do you believe in God?' type conversation, which is up there with discussions about freemasons and the New World Order with topics I shy away from mostly. I could see why it would convince you of the merits of believing in God, and it did knock me sideways a bit. I thought it would more simplistic, like, wow, how could he survive all that without God helpi... More

Posted by Professor Dent at 18:55, 08 March 2013 | Report This Post

RE: I give it slighly over 3.14...........

This film claims to be about 'God', but it actually seems to be about storytelling. Was anyone convinced the god exists, as Spall supposedly was, by the end of the film? ... More

Posted by Drooch at 13:16, 27 February 2013 | Report This Post

FORREST GUMP - THE PUNJABI VERSION... isn't necessarily a bad thing....but lets be honest here. If that bloke really was stuck out at sea in a boat with a bleedin great tiger for company, the tiger would've eaten him in ten seconds flat and the film would be over in a flash. Some of the 3D works, some of it I just found to be plain irritating...... no religious conversion or any great epithanies experienced I'm afraid...... 3 STARS ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 17:54, 19 February 2013 | Report This Post

Fabulous Adaptation of the Impossible book

If you've read and loved the book and thought this will not live up to your own vision, go and see it. It is magical. Sumptuous and at times truly breathtaking cinematography, and perfect performance by Sharma as Pi and wonderful music. It is so faithful to the book - enhancing Martel's wonderful tale with a visionary interpretation. This is a classic. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dillon the Villain at 07:21, 17 February 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

Ang Lee, who is originally from Taiwan, has successfully visualized the original, Life of Pi written by Yann Martels. This mythical novel becomes a wonderful drama on screen. Lee is one of the most bravest and flexible directors in film industry; starting from humanity comedy (The Wedding Banguet,1933), martial art film( Crouching Tiger,2000) , science fiction fantasy( Hulk,2003) , romantic drama ( Lust-Caution,2007) and finally to adventure 3D ( Life of Pi,2012). He must be very versa... More

Posted by aaronyun at 21:16, 22 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

:) ... More

Posted by aaronyun at 21:15, 22 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

Is this better than the Hulk? ... More

Posted by Dannybohy at 14:56, 14 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

I was reading some stuff on Wikipedia about the book and the reasons why Martel chose the name Richard Parker. Some freaky shit. ... More

Posted by horribleives at 19:56, 11 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

L: sharkboy A word about the ending - there have been quite a few negative comments about the "twist" at the end which IMO are missing the point of the central theme.  This isn't a movie about God per se, but rather about choice, particularly choice between spiritual answers and scientific answers, and unlike some other cinematic representations of this dilemma, in Life of Pi one does not necessarily preclude the other.  The ending was simply saying that there are two choices presen... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 16:21, 11 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

Nowt much to add but I was quietly blown away by this and haven't been able to stop thinking about it for days. For all the visual eye candy on display (and the effects and cinematogrophy are quite breathtaking) it's the story that resonates - ironically the most powerful scene of the film involves someone simply describing something which (thankfully) we don't see. Never has the word 'resourceful' sounded so chilling. And never has a film with such a horrific chain of events at its core ended ... More

Posted by horribleives at 19:36, 10 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi (2012)

I saw this at the weekend, but thought I'd consider what I'd witnessed before posting my thoughts.   First up, I confess - I'm a huge fan of the novel.  I think Yann Martel spun a marvellous tale about humanity and faith, with unforgettable characters and beautiful imagery.  So as you would imagine, I was more than delighted to see that Ang Lee managed to preserve the core tenet, the characters and the beauty with his cinematic adaptation.   I'm not going to say too ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sharkboy at 14:33, 10 January 2013 | Report This Post

Life of Pi (2012)

With awards season upon us, Ang Lee’s fantasy adventure Life of Pi becomes the latest contender to unveil itself on curious audiences. Based on Yann Matel’s best-selling novel, it focuses on a middle-aged Indian man named Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) who recalls to a writer (Rafe Spall) about the terrifying experience he endured as a teenage boy when he survived a terrible shipwreck that claimed the lives of his family. It resulted in him being stranded at sea for the next several months ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by craig_kell at 10:46, 10 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Too pi-ous

Short burst review: I've read the book and pretty much hated it, but the trailer caught my eye. Ignore the religion guff and it's all good. Visually magnificent. Colour, weather effects and scenery beautiful. £D hit and miss. Some good scenes, but some very "layered looking" Very funny in parts, with great performance form the lead. The ending was a bit hum de dum. The audience don't need to be spoon-fed the exact ins and outs of the metaphor. Rafe Spall is great but that ... More

Posted by dolfinack at 15:47, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Too pi-ous

Great movie, but it had some properly misleading trailers for it. I knew nothing about it going in, the trailer made it look like a jolly visual treat. And judging by the amount of people who brought little kiddies to the showing I was at I wasn't alone in thinking this. The beginning was a bit slow (but thats probally more to do with me being in the wrong frame of mind) But once I settled into it I really enjoyed it ( would have enjoyed it more without the room full of squ... More

Posted by blackduck at 09:43, 07 January 2013 | Report This Post

RE: Too pi-ous

As soon as I'd seen it I wanted to see it again. Visually stunning and left me emotionally drained. I think one of the best films I've ever seen. ... More

Posted by moehat at 22:17, 03 January 2013 | Report This Post

Too pi-ous

Not bad, but lacks humour. Some weird stuff keeps it interesting. At least it's different, but wouldn't call it a classic. I thought the ending was muddled, but in a way that's good. I didn't like Rafe Spall. Forget the religious overtones, the message anyone should take from this movie is save the tigers. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Normal Control at 01:23, 02 January 2013 | Report This Post

Cleverly adapted, beautiful shot and a truly powerful tale of hope and survival. Stunning ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 00:06, 31 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi

L: Giant Green Rabbit ICAL SPOILERS AHEAD lor] I absolutely loved the film - more so watching it for the second time. I think it's the year's best, a masterpiece and the first film I've seen where the 3D actually has a rationale and therefore gives added value. I am somewhat intrigued by those who complained about the ending - the ending it seems to me is the very point of the movie. The whole thing is a meditation on life, its meaning and religion - and although the charac... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 17:31, 30 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: Life of Pi

The film is a masterpiece. I've now seen it in both 2D and 3D, the extra dimension is used expertly by Lee, but it does lessen the impact of the vibrant colours so would always recommend seeing it without superfluous spectacles. With regards to the negativity shown towards its ending, I actually prefer the way the film closes to the novel's, mainly due to the interplay between Spall's writer and Khan's beautifully played elder Pi. I never liked the role of the insurance investigators in the boo... More

Posted by Rod Hull at 10:56, 29 December 2012 | Report This Post

RE: I give it slighly over 3.14...........

I was all ready to write a big review of this film but I am suffering from post-festive blues (hangover) so I'll just say it's probably one of the best films of 2012. Moving, funny and the lead character gives a superb solo performance. The world created\captured by Mr Lee looks absolutely beautiful and I think this is one of those rare movies where the 3D actually adds an extra dimension. It does have a few small flaws but these are largely forgiveable so do yourself a favour and go see it ... More

Posted by Don_a_van at 13:52, 27 December 2012 | Report This Post

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