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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Life of Pi (Release Date: 11-21-2012)

         Narrative filmmaking is a very, very unique art. Music attacks the eardrums. Literature stokes one's cognitive powers. Fine arts appeal primarily to the eyes. Movies, as an amalgamation of all of these forms of expression, takes on all of their responsibilities, and becomes a robust beast all its own. This is not to belittle other mediums, or aggrandize cinema: having more on your plate does not necessitate true complexity, and filmmakers often allow the expressive surplus of their medium to get in the way of crafting a good product. It's no coincidence that I bring this to light right in front of my Life of Pi film review; this is a challenging piece to evaluate, as some of its elements soar up to heaven, and others sink down to the ocean's floor.

         A boy, a boat, and a tiger named Richard Parker; readers the world over already know what the adventures of young Piscine Patel come to involve, but for the uninitiated, here's a quick brush-up. Life of Pi takes place on two separate tracks, one where in an older Piscine (Irrfan Khan) relays his life story to a writer in desperate need of a good yarn (Rafe Spall), the other bringing said tales to life with one of three younger actors (Gautam Belur, Ayush Tandon, and Suraj Sharma). Patel's tales range in subject, from childhood bullying, to his thorny relationship with his zoo-keeper father, to a truly inventive take on theological acceptance, all warm-up acts for the sea-faring adventure that serves as the crux of the story. I'm avoiding spoilers as best I can here, but suffice to say, Pi (the knick-name Piscine adopts early in the film) will be spending quite a bit of time with one of earths most expansive bodies of water, as well as one of her deadliest predators.

      As honesty is always the best policy, I suppose I have something to get off of my chest: I have read Yann Martel's bestseller Life of Pi, and I was not a fan. Where others see wisdom and perseverance, this reader only saw painful degrees of over-earnestness, repetitive (albeit pertinent) storytelling, and theological over-simplification of the most egregious sort. Elements of the tale really sing, but I could never help the feeling that Martel was pulling a fast one on me. Ang Lee's film adaptation, built from the hyper-loyal screenplay penned by David Magee, recreates the ideas and moods presented on page with surgical accuracy; those committed to the prose, and worried that a film adaptation would, 'ruin,' Martel's original offering can take a deep breath. Those turned off by the overwrought paradigm of the saga the first time around would be advised to inhale sharply.

        No, I do not like the plot of Life of Pi, I object to the mind-numbingly corny opening 40 minutes, and the awe-and-wonder deflating twist that occurs in its final moments leaves me cold. I essentially have every reason to dislike both Pi and his frienemy tiger, but I don't... hardly at all. As a matter of fact, I throughly enjoyed the movie, because despite all of its short-comings, its sense of spectacle is entirely undeniable, its visual effects truly among the very most accomplished in the history of celluloid. The storms that the Sharma Pi faces are down right ferocious, the calm moments of wonder sincerely miraculous, and oh-my-god is that tiger A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! Never mind that Sharma lays it on reeeal thick at certain points, or that using endless computers to celebrate the beauty of the natural world is kind of missing the whole point: This is amazing we're talking about here, not cool, or neat, or rad. Amazing. Yes, Life of Pi frustrates in more ways that it titulates, but that could be said of any number of movies. Amazement is entirely more rare, and worth celebrating, even if it comes with a boat-load of baggage.

Grade: B

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