Life of Pi Review – Good but Not Spectacular

If you schmucks were to ask me if I liked Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s new film based on Yann Martel’s delightful book of the same name, my response would be a guarded “Yes.”

I read the Booker Prize winning novel a few years back and returned to terra firma in a heady state.

The book is awesome.

A few hours back, I watched the 3D version of Life of Pi and, alas, yours truly did not derive the same unalloyed pleasure afforded by the book.

Part of the reason is, I knew the complete story.

And so the magic and high adventure of the strange cohabitation of Richard Parker and Pi Patel, marooned together on a small boat in the vast, endless Pacific Ocean, was to a great degree lost to me.

Second, the movie is much more of an adventure tale, albeit an unlikely one.

More than merely an adventure tale on the high seas, the book offers greater pathos and drips with humor.

In the movie, the story tilts more toward the adventure side, the humor quotient is watered down and the dialogs don’t crackle as much.

I ventured into the movie hall with lofty expectations that, obviously, can never be met when you’re translating any book into a movie, more so an unusual one like Life of Pi.

All that said, I still think in Ang Lee, author Yann Martel found a director worthy of bringing his extraordinary oceanic fantasy to life on the big screen.

Surely, many other filmmakers considered making a movie based on Martel’s book but did not pick up the gantlet fearing the story was impossible to translate to the screen.

It’s to Ang Lee’s credit that he took up the challenge and delivered in good measure.

The Story of Pi

Narrated in flashback several years after the events, Life of Pi centers around a South Indian teen Piscine Molitor Patel a.k.a Pi shipwrecked above the deep Mariana trench, in the Pacific Ocean.

Like so many Indians (including SI) who have turned their back on Mera Bharat Mahaan, Pi and his family have bid goodbye to India and are migrating from Pondicherry to Canada to make a new, better life.

The family has taken along with them a large menagerie of animals from Pi’s father Santosh Patel’s zoo. The father hopes to sell the animals in America and make good money off them.

Soon after the freighter leaves Manila, it encounters a nasty squall and sinks.

The storm scene leading to the sinking of the ship is well done.

Except for Pi, an injured Zebra, Richard Parker the adult Bengal tiger, a Hyena and an Orangutan, the rest meet a watery grave.

All of the survivors end up on ‘Pi’s Ark‘ but not all of them survive.

For the next hour and 20 minutes, we’re witness to the unfolding of an extraordinary fantasy tale of Pi and Richard Parker crossing the Pacific Ocean together over the course of 227-days in a small boat.

Under Lee’s tight grip, the movie sails smoothly, beautifully.

Through sunny days and dark nights, placid waters and raging waves, battling hunger and thirst, the bone-weary duo of the herbivore Pi and carnivore Richard Parker ride the waves in one of the great survival, endurance tests seen on the big screen.

Each needs the other to survive the ordeal.

Is there a lesson in there somewhere, that it’s our enemies who define us, who shape us, who give some meaning to our dreary lives?

Visual Appeal

The digital special effects folks behind the creation of Richard Parker have turned in an amazing job.

You putzheads will be hard pressed to believe that the grown Bengal tiger is not real.

Richard Parker’s glistening orange, brown, black and white fur, the long white, curled whiskers, the shining brown eyes, the sharp incisors, the fearsome roar, every bit of the Bengal tiger  looks so life-like that I wonder why we can’t replace worthless turdpiles like Abhishek Bachchan, Priyanka Chopra, Trisha, Samantha and, hey, most Indian ‘actors’ with digital creations. Food for thought, eh?

There were two breathtaking scenes of the ocean by night and one stunning picture of a carnivorous floating forest  that’ll fill you with awe.

But in terms of overall visual imagery, I’d rate Avatar a bit higher. Perhaps, the vivid colors of the forest setting in Avatar lend themselves to better picturization than the oceanic backdrop.

By the way, I went for the 3D version of Life of Pi. But am in two minds whether the $3.25 surcharge was worth it.

Who Counts?

The heroes of the movie are undoubtedly Yann Martel’s amazing fantasy tale, Pi (Suraj Sharma) and Richard Parker (the Bengal Tiger).

Some 37-minutes into the movie, we’re left only with Pi and Richard Parker, the rest consigned to the bottom of the ocean.

I’d unhesitatingly say Suraj Sharma as the teen Pi has done a fine job.

Life of Pi is Suraj’s debut film and he was selected from a group of several thousand hopefuls. It’ll be interesting to see where Suraj goes from Pi.

Irrfan Khan, the grownup version of Pi, has a short role but still manages to leave an impression as the narrator of the story.

Tabu’s role is so insignificant, both in terms of time and content, that I will not dwell upon it one second longer. Oh wait, Tabu’s Tamil is not up to snuff. At least, not to these old ears.

Adil Hussain is fine as Pi’s zoo-owner father, again in  short role.

French film buffs will be pleased to see the legendary Gérard Depardieu in a bit role as the angry cook on the ship.

Life of Pi – Bottom Line

I suspect that those who have not read the book, the vast majority of moviegoers, will enjoy Life of Pi more than the minority that has pored over the book.

With Life of Pi, Ang Lee cements his reputation as one of the remarkable filmmakers of our time. I greatly relished Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Brokeback Mountain and, to a lesser degree, Lust, Caution.

Life of Pie more than meets my approval. heartily recommends Life of Pi for all those who like classy films.

20 Responses to "Life of Pi Review – Good but Not Spectacular"

  1. Mnx542   November 22, 2012 at 10:02 am

    I’ve seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon many times and loved it each time.

    Good to see a positive review for Life of Pi because I was a bit doubtful about a movie set in the ocean with just a guy and a Tiger, together on a little boat.

    Btw, ever got around to seeing any of my recommended movies? Responds:

    1. Have you read Life of Pi?

    2. I promise to cover all of the recommendations in I am Brahma.

    Besides SI, I also tackle a few other projects.

    I have seen one of your recommendations multiple times – The Shawshank Redemption but never got around to reviewing it.

    I will watch and review one of your recommendations, Cast Away, soon.

    • Mnx542   November 22, 2012 at 11:23 am

      1) No. In fact, I didn’t even know the movie was based on a book until I read your review.

      2) Shawshank Redemption is a fine movie. I’ve seen it so many times.

      I don’t remember much of Cast Away except that I liked it very much.

    • boopalanj   November 22, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Whaatttttt?!?!?! Few other projects?! Responds:

      Oh, putting about here and there.

    • boopalanj   November 22, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      “I was a bit doubtful about a movie set in the ocean with just a guy and a Tiger, together on a little boat.”

      And, ironically, you seem to have recommended Cast Away. A movie set on an island with just a guy and a volley ball. Interesting though.

      • Mnx542   November 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

        Well, Cast Away takes place on an island but from what I saw from the teasers, LOP is set in the middle of the ocean, with the young guy on a life boat with a big tiger.

        It’s not about the no. of characters but the setting of the movie. It is entirely different from Cast Away’s.

        I was doubtful as to how he would carry the story forward. I also wasn’t aware it’s based on a book.

        And going by SI’s review, the movie is totally worth watching. Responds:

        We’ll review Castaway the coming week for sure.

        I just moved it to the top of my Netflix list.

  2. Mnx542   November 25, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Look at the audacity of this clown justifying what he does.

    Well, viewers are to blame for this. Responds:

    Now this Akshay “Chutia” Kumar has started featuring in Liquor ads.

    With our Indian (M)asses worshiping their ‘heroes’ you know what’s coming when they see this chimp endorsing Liquor. 🙁

  3. gandhiji   November 26, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Silver Linings Playbook not in the plans? It has got 90% RT. Responds:

    I should have seen it when I went to NYC last week.

    Mea culpa, it completely slipped my mind. I usually check what movies are playing in Manhattan before leaving but this one time I didn’t. 🙁

    And now, I’m busy with other stuff.

    You likely know it but the others don’t: the movie’s cast includes, besides my two favorites, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro, our desi guy Anupam Kher.

    P.S: If You have not seen Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, I strongly recommend it.

    $1 at RedBox.

    • gandhiji   November 26, 2012 at 11:55 am

      I didn’t know about Anupam Kher. will probably wait for Marigold till it hits TV.

  4. aylaruya   November 26, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Hola SI.

    I enjoyed the movie, even though the ending doesn’t seem to be convincing. BTW, I did not read the book.

    I have seen here in this site and other web sites too – when people talk about Ang Lee, they mention only Crouching Tiger or Brokeback. I feel Taking Woodstock was equally good and a super fun movie to watch. Give it a chance, you won’t regret. Responds:

    Hello sweetie! Will definitely watch Taking Woodstock.

  5. shadowfax_arbit   December 5, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I haven’t read the book, and man what an experience this movie turned out to be!!

    I was blown away, and I liked it much better than Avatar – not in terms of visual effects but in terms of storyline and screenplay.

    Simply WOW!! Responds:

    I hope it’s going strong in India?

    After all, the movie is set (partially) in India and has three Indian stars. Four, if you include Richard Parker! 😉

    • shadowfax_arbit   December 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm

      Going real strong!

      Talaash tickets are available but this one is running full-house. Responds:

      Life of Pi is a lovely read. 319-pages of joy. I’m looking at it on my desk as I type.

      I got my copy on eBay/ for a buck or two.

      It should be cheaper in India – Rs 20 or Rs 30?

      • boopalanj   December 5, 2012 at 2:22 pm

        The one that is being sold through (India’s amazon 😉 ) costs Rs.419.

        Maybe it’s because of the film. Responds:

        Don’t you have used bookstores?

        I have seen several used book stores on the streets in Bombay, Delhi etc peddling used/pirated copies at bargain prices. Surely, they’re still around although sadly the delightful Moore Market in Chennai is long gone.

        Besides used book stores like ebay/Amazon/Half, we also buy from libraries that cast away good condition old books for ridiculous prices like a penny (one-cent)! No kidding.

  6. shadowfax_arbit   December 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    I don’t understand why people bring kids to such kinda movies.

    There was one annoying kid shouting all the time if the tiger does not appear on the screen.

    And whenever it appears he was clapping.

    That was so annoying and distracting.

    Not to blame the kid, but his parents! Responds:

    You write: I don’t understand why people bring kids to such kinda movies.

    Forget movies, I don’t understand why people bring kids into this over-burdened, over-populated world.

  7. gandhiji   December 8, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Did you watch the 3D / 2D? Sorry if you had mentioned in the review. I usually read reviews fully after I watch the movie. Responds:


  8. gandhiji   December 10, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Life of Pi worked better for than Slumdog Millionaire.. perhaps because it was not as over-hyped.

    Suraj Sharma was definitely much better than Dev Patel.

    Tabu’s Tamil Terrible.

    Adil Hussain did a “fine job in a small role” in English Vinglish too.

    Was surprised to see Gérard Depardieu in such a tiny role.

    I watched Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm” 15 years ago. Remember being quite impressed, but memory of the story has been purged.

    It won’t be fair for me to compare Avatar with it. Because I watched Avatar in a giant IMAX screen and was completely blown away. I watched Pi in a small 2D screen. It would have definitely been leagues better in a bigger 3D screen.

    They didn’t show the Richard Parker’s fecal episode, did they? Perhaps to keep the PG rating & keep it from reaching JTHJ-esque length.

    I found the book online in a Ukrainian library. Not sure if it is legal. I am pretty sure that the book will be far more intriguing than the movie. I may even try to read it when soccer-dadding.

    p.s.: I could have used the ^F instead of bothering you with my previous question. Senility. Responds:

    1. No Richard Parker ‘Ladoos’ in the movie.

    Differences between Pi book and Pi movie:

    2. No understanding the Ukrainian logic and the effort/time expended to search for it.

    Surely, every county and town library in the U.S. has Life of Pi.

    Perhaps, reading the illegal stuff is akin to the thrill one gets from a hooker despite having a pretty wife at home.

    There must be something sexy in illegal that excites the Indian DNA.

    • gandhiji   December 10, 2012 at 10:17 am

      I didn’t search of the book.. I searched for Richard Parker’s feces and this thing showed up.

    • gandhiji   December 10, 2012 at 10:49 am

      Thanks for the comparison page. Doesn’t look like Ang didn’t cut out much.

      Regarding the matter of copyrights: They claim it is a library too.

      Aren’t you being self-righteous here? So you are all saint if you go to the library and get it for free, but you are scum if you read it online? To me it sounds like an illogical argument. Being a religion-hater, you ought to question the other illogical rules of the world too, in this day and age of Khan Academy.. instead of blindly following it. Responds:

      One of the problems with keeping comments open is that every jackass now and then gets the uncontrollable itch to scribble some nonsense.

      Let’s take your drivel today, for instance.

      1. You write: They claim it is a library too.

      Well, Raghunandan Yandamuri claims it was all an accident!

      I’m sure you believe poor Grandma eagerly ran into the kitchen knife.

      You tacitly acknowledged in your earlier comment that the book you found on the Ukrainian site was illegal.

      This is what you wrote: I found the book online in a Ukrainian library….[link] Not sure if it is legal.

      Life of Pi is a fairly new book (11 years) and if it’s on a Ukrainian web site the odds are high that it’s a pirated copy.

      2. You write: Aren’t you being self-righteous here? So you are all saint if you go to the library and get it for free, but you are scum if you read it online?

      More drivel!

      First, I never even said what you portray me as saying. Shrewd entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos are betting billions that people who read online are not scum but smart! And while I still prefer the printed book, I’m eager to read the New Yorker on the app before the magazine reaches me.

      What I said was that it made no sense to go searching for the book on an Ukrainian site when it was available in every U.S. county/town library. You provided a plausible explanation for my comment and I quickly approved it.

      Second, for whatever reason you develop cold-feet about your Ukrainian link…..So you jump to inane defenses by bringing in comparison between borrowing from a library and reading it online (BTW, they’re not mutually exclusive as I recall your acknowledging in a comment some months back).

      Borrowing a book from a U.S. county/town library (whether print or online) and stealing a book from a Ukrainian web site are hardly the same!

      3. As to the larger issue of “the other illogical rules of the world,” borrowing a book from a library is hardly an illogical rule.

      Dating back more than two millennia, libraries are more than an accepted convention. or in India.

      Writers and publishers have factored such library borrowings in their equations for millennia.

      True, religion too goes back several millennia but I cannot recall a single incident where borrowing books has caused bloodshed.

      • gandhiji   December 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm

        Well, it was not a defense.

        I was only saying that your stubborn beliefs in the copyright matters don’t seem much different to me from the tight-ass beliefs of religious zealots 😉

        You have repeatedly said that life has no meaning, yet you get your panties in a twist when it comes to copyright matters.

        It doesn’t add up. Be un-confused, my friend. (in the Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man voice).

        In the movie, Pi is shown reading an Albert Camus book. Does the novel talk about Camus extensively? That is piquing my interest.

        Our libraries are kindle-enabled. But their collection is anemic. They do have the audio book Life of Pi. That’s good enough for me.

        p.s.: You may want to update your insult repository. They are becoming repetitive in content and sometimes repeated verbatim. Responds:

        You write: I was only saying that your stubborn beliefs in the copyright matters don’t seem much different to me from the tight-ass beliefs of religious zealots

        Stop pussyfooting around and have the balls to refer to what you are speaking of as stealing instead of couching it in euphemistic ‘copyright’ terms.

        And I most definitely do NOT wish to see you posting links to pirate book sites ever again. Unless you harbor a desperate itch to feel the hard heel of my boot on your registration. Comprende?

        It’s true that I believe much of life has no meaning but then I also consider those who steal books online, illegally download movies/music/ or return lawnmovers to Costco after using them for five years as sick fucks!

  9. shadowfax_arbit   December 11, 2012 at 3:18 am

    I again caught this intriguing movie last weekend!

    @SIIs there a lesson in there somewhere, that it’s our enemies who define us, who shape us, who give some meaning to our dreary lives?

    This is just one of them.

    Infact most probably the second story that he says in the end is true and this metaphor tells a lot more.

    The tiger basically becomes his reflection and symbolizes human nature. And his spiritual self is what is fearless during the testing times (i.e. during the storm in the end) while the ferocious human nature is vulnerable.

    Brilliant movie!

    I’ve never imagined such a spiritual story can be told in such an interesting way! Responds:

    Imagination is taken for granted by the lesser mortals, the hoi polloi, who know little!

    ****In a Hollywood-world, increasingly filled with banalities, Ang Lee had the talent and the balls to make the movie that other Pansie film-makers shied away from!!****

    Maybe, more than one Oscar!

    Richard Parker and his intersection with Pi is a tour de force of imagination!

    Yaan Martel and Ang Lee deserve rich kudos!

  10. kage_11   December 28, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Watched this movie on Christmas Day. Worth a watch.

    The graphic Bengal Tiger was awesome, Bolly/Kolly/Tolly & Sandalwood will take another millennium to bring out such a graphics in Indian movies.

    True. The night photography and the island photography stood out.
    But the scene in which a barrage of flying fishes come was bad, it was totally unrealistic.

    Acting department was top notch. But I thought Irrfan Khan looked haggard. Responds:

    You write: But I thought Irrfan Khan looked haggard.

    Me thinks you’re getting your Khans mixed up. 😉

You must be logged in to post a comment Login