Director Ang Lee spills an ocean of emotional depth and visual splendor across the big screen with “Life of Pi,” at the same time elevating the technological effect of 3-D from a mere in-your-face gimmick to a true and essential artistic component to the overall storytelling success of a serious cinematic work.
From a screenplay by David Magee (“Finding Neverland”), based on a much-loved best-selling novel by Yann Martell (“We Ate the Children Last”), Lee tells the story of Piscine Militor Patel, Pi for short (played as a boy by Ayush Tandon, as a grown man by Irrfan Khan, and in the heart of the movie as a 17-year-old boy by newcomer Suraj Sharma), who grows to a teenager in Pondicherry, India, in the 1970s.
The son of a zoo owner who is a stern father (Adil Hussain), Pi lives around all sorts of exotic creatures, including monkeys, hippos, zebras and a Bengal tiger by the name of Richard Parker. Pi forms his own ideas about God, faith and the nature of humans — and animals — early on in his life, insisting that evidence of a soul within an animal can be seen in its eyes. At one point as a small boy he even makes an attempt to befriend the tiger, but his father intercedes and teaches him about the savage instincts of carnivorous animals in a very brutal away. “The tiger is not your friend,” the father rails at his son. “Animals don't think like we do. People who forget that get themselves killed!”
Pi carries that lesson into his adolescence, when the changing political climate of his country forces his family to sell the zoo and board a Japanese cargo ship to Canada with all their worldly possessions and some of their animals. When the ship is sunk in a violent storm, Pi is cast adrift in a lifeboat with an extremely unwelcome companion — Richard Parker.
Lee — who broke new ground with the poetic, gravity-defying effects of 2000's “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — proceeds to immerse the audience in a harrowing and beautiful oceanic world of multihued blues, greens and grays, glass-like calm and life-threatening mountainous swells, blizzards of flyingfish, luminescent sea life, star-splattered skies, shadowy sharks and one majestic and graceful humpback whale.
Through Lee's unprecedented mastery of 3-D technology, and the additional magic of CGI, the audience is right there with the courageous boy and the ferocious beast, as Pi's resourcefulness gradually achieves an uneasy peace with the animal and the possibility of survival for both of them as they drift together across the ocean in the confines of the lifeboat.
But more, the stunningly vivid visuals serve to enhance the emotional impact of Pi's faith-testing journey, and the spiritual message that this heartbreaking and magnificently heartfelt film so effectively imparts.
— Gene Triplett