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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
PG
Cast
Irrfan Khan
Tabu
Suraj Sharma
Adil Hussain.
Directors
Ang Lee.
Screenwriters
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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Plot
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.


Review
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?


Verdict
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


Related Reviews
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Making Of Life Of Pi — A Film, A Journey, The
 
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Your Reviews

Average user rating for Life Of Pi
Empire Star Rating

I give it slighly over 3.14...........

Having read the book, I was looking forward to witnessing, hopefully, a successful interpretation of the tale. There are some visually stunning sections of the film. However, there are aspects of the book that are simply left out (ie. the diffetrent plans about what to do with Richard Barker was which I regar as unforgivable.) The ending of the book (and the film) you will wither love or despise, considering an unnecessary com ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by filmsunlimited at 12:34, 25 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Life of Pi

Apparently the author ripped off the central story idea from another book called "Max and the Cats". Oh and look up what happened to the real Richard Parker. But I do think it worked well as a metaphor about religion. And I thought the CGI was pretty good. I just think I went in with higher expectations than I should have. I except I will grow to love it even more as time goes by. But I really want to read the book now. ... More

Posted by Private Hudson at 17:56, 24 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Life of Pi

this movie sucks and it's disappoint me. ... More

Posted by maxcarig at 11:30, 24 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Life of Pi

L: Dr Lenera I wouldn’t say it’s perfect; it seems to me somewhat confused in its message, the last ten minutes are pointless and the special effects, though mostly very good, are occasionally poor, especially when seen in 3D, which has burdened the film somewhat. would disagree, I think it's a perfect metaphor for the whole idea of religion - and this is coming from a non-believer. As for the poor effects, serves you right for seeing it in 3D! lad you liked it though. ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 07:53, 24 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Life of Pi

Pi Patel, an immigrant from Pondicherry in India living in Canada, is approached by a local novelist who has been referred to him by his “uncle” (a family friend), believing that Pi’s life story would make a great book. Pi relates how he was originally named Piscine Molitor after a French swimming pool but changed his name to Pi because he was tired of being taunted with the nickname “Pissing Patel”. His family owned a local zoo, and Pi took an interest in the animals, especially a Bengal tiger... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Dr Lenera at 15:39, 23 December 2012 | Report This Post


Life of Pi

Slicing the best units from the novel, as squeezing to the most with the aid of his own visions, visual effects & a live script, Ang Lee delivers a gracefully realized, visually gorgeous, and emotionally powerful film. My Detailed Review Here: http://ajmreviews.blogspot.in/2012/11/life-of-pi_30.htm l ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ajm1991 at 10:21, 23 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: possible spoilers

I thought it was actually very disappointing. I was expecting a lot more I think since the story was supposed to be incredible. Eh? Boy survives shipwreck. Boy ends up on boat with Tiger. A couple of minor incidents take place, but a film like Castaway did the solitude better and I was more moved by a Volleyball floating away than anything in this movie. I did like the ending, which I won't spoil. Okay so it is a parable about Faith and God, but it was a bit heavy handed. Being a bit ... More

Posted by Private Hudson at 00:45, 23 December 2012 | Report This Post


possible spoilers

I thought this was a remarkable film... those expecting family friendly escapism may get a few nasty shocks as despite the films PG certificate, it has its dark moments. The film is full of astonishing technical achievements like the famous CGI Richard Parker but it is also one of artistic accomplishments.... the conclusion in particular made me question both the nature of storytelling and religion... I hope this earns an audience in the UK as it is vastly superior to other, more generic winter... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ace Rothstein at 00:26, 23 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Excellent but miserable!

L: J_BUltimatum Will give the director this. It looks great. Apart from that, however, it is one boring and just down right awful film. How this is up for awards is beyond me! I wouldn't recommend this snooze fest to my worst enemy!! sm=18.gif] ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 20:45, 21 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Excellent but miserable!

Seen this today - and I was not prepared for it at all. Struggling to articulate my words at the moment, but what I can say is Ang Lee played my emotions like a violin. Genuinely moved by what was an extraordinarily rich & beautiful-looking film. Do not be put off by the Coldplay-soundtracked trailer. It's so much better than that. Even at this late stage, one of the films of the year. ... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 20:42, 21 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Excellent but miserable!

Saw this in 3D 1st one since Jim Carrey in A Christmas Carol gotta say it's the best I've seen BUT! I still have concerns with the loss of brightness, thought the young actor (Suraj Sharma) who played the lead character while he was on the boat was fantastic though, will see it again in 2D if just to put my mind to rest. On the whole a thoroughly enjoyable film a life affirming 4/5 ... More

Posted by Wild about Wilder at 15:49, 21 December 2012 | Report This Post


Excellent but miserable!

I've never read the book so knew nothing of the story/ending and I thought the trailer with Coldplay's 'Paradise' looked incredible. I went in quite excited... What I found was an oddity... A film released at Christmas that is being sold as a family film yet it is unbelieveably downbeat throughout, is definitely not a film for kids (they'll get bored tbh!) and with numerous scenes of animals in distress (albeit CGI ones). Oh and that ending which will piss all over your Xmas pud!! I think... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by losthighway at 11:31, 21 December 2012 | Report This Post


Usual over rated junk

Will give the director this. It looks great. Apart from that, however, it is one boring and just down right awful film. How this is up for awards is beyond me! I wouldn't recommend this snooze fest to my worst enemy!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by J_BUltimatum at 00:46, 21 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Life Of Pi

Since its publication back in 2001, Canadian author Yann Martel’s much loved fantasy adventure novel Life of Pi, which was described by Barack Obama as "an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling", had tried to be in the process of adaptation for almost a decade. Following the numerous attempts by auteurs like M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the book was considered unfilmable, although after works such as Lord of the Rings and Watchmen, anything’s possible... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by R W at 22:01, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


DAZZLING STUFF!!!

A Masterful adaption from Director Ang lee!! From the start off you can tell Ang lee is releshing every frame of this movie,..a first time using 3D to full effect. We are first introduced to a middel aged Pi (Irrfan Khan) recollecting his experience at sea to writer (Rafe Spall) in present day and what unfolds is wonderful to watch. From it's opening shots of natural beauty,..from humming birds darting towards the screen, to the landscapes of Pondicherry india, there has been real atten... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ramone87 at 20:49, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


Life Of Pi

Ang Lee has produced an immensely gripping, emotive and altogether ambitious film, bolstered by stunning cinematography and sublimely slick editing. The 3D is also used quite nicely, giving the picture lots of depth rather than just having things fly out at us, although I would still argue it's not completely necessary. The core relationship between Pi and Richard Parker is wonderfully done, and it did make me shed a few tears. A quite spectacular piece of work. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Whistler at 17:07, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Life Of Pi

Just came across this and it's really interesting, as Ang Lee talks about and answers questions about the Life of Pi, now really excited to go see it http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=229vKIGbxrI# ... More

Posted by SarahBanks195 at 13:13, 18 December 2012 | Report This Post


The book is fantastic and for anyone to have made a coherent, watchable film from it is a triumph in itself. The fact that the trailer looks superb and the reviews are all fantastic have swayed me; I'm off to see it (possibly in 3-D as well, something I wouldn't normally bother with) and expect it to become my favourite film of the year after some disappointments (Batman, Skyfall)... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dunstabledoug at 12:30, 17 December 2012 | Report This Post


The book is fantastic and for anyone to have made a coherent, watchable film from it is a triumph in itself. The fact that the trailer looks superb and the reviews are all fantastic have swayed me; I'm off to see it (possibly in 3-D as well, something I wouldn't normally bother with) and expect it to become my favourite film of the year after some disappointments (Batman, Skyfall)... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dunstabledoug at 12:30, 17 December 2012 | Report This Post


Definitely worth watching

I knew nothing about the film or the book when I went to see it and I really REALLY enjoyed it. Simply put, a good film, Beautiful to watch. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by PlanetNish_dotcom at 12:28, 17 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Utterly stunning

I have reservations about going to see a film about a man who knocks about on a boat with a Tiger. ... More

Posted by The Duck Returns at 10:49, 17 December 2012 | Report This Post


Utterly stunning

As Life of Pi is one of my favourite books, I entered the cinema with trepidation, knowing that the chance of this being anywhere near as fascinating as the book would be very slim. Kudos to Ang Lee; the film is remarkable. Utterly beautiful to look at (I saw the incredible 3d version) and cohesive, perhaps more so than the book! I can't think of anything major missing from the book, except that the book throws up more questions about religion and whether animals are better off in zoos than... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by howiet1971 at 09:43, 17 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: BEAUTIFULLY DONE

L: Qwerty Norris Out of interest. To the people who've seen this, do you reckon it would be better to witness it in 3D the first time round? Or do the strengths of the film ensure that it doesn't really matter? I could be wrong, but like Hugo it seems to winning over some of the 3D sceptics a fair bit. saw it today, it was fantastic. I saw the 2D version and it looked stunning. There's parts where you could see how 3D would look great BUT there are lots of places where i... More

Posted by MASH4077 at 22:39, 16 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Beautiful, but lacking 'oomph'

Very nice movie i watch this movie at last week special effects are to good. full entertaining movie. ... More

Posted by denius88 at 09:09, 13 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: BEAUTIFULLY DONE

L: Qwerty Norris Out of interest. To the people who've seen this, do you reckon it would be better to witness it in 3D the first time round? Or do the strengths of the film ensure that it doesn't really matter? I could be wrong, but like Hugo it seems to winning over some of the 3D sceptics a fair bit. see it in 3D first, as it does really compliment the outstanding special effects, and if you enjoy the film enough, see it again in 2D. Probably the film of the year fo... More

Posted by nhassell at 23:33, 11 December 2012 | Report This Post


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