Movie Review: Life of Pi

IMDB, Life of Pi“Life of Pi” on IMDB

Adventure/Drama, 127 Minutes, 2012

One of the most common remarks heard before this released was that the book was “un-filmable”.  After it was released,  all you really heard was “ooh!  A tiger!”  The truth, in my opinion, lies someplace in between.

The story is focused on Pi, a smart, curious Indian boy who spends most of his free time collecting religions.  He smooshes all these religions together into a happy mash of grins and smiles.  While many parts of Pi’s childhood are wonderfully touching and meaningful the focus on his religious fusion tended to be overly simplistic and off-putting.  Ignoring thousands of years of history and millions of people that could not reconcile the irreconcilable aspects of major religions, the movie basically tells us to “just worry about the good parts”.  I respect that I may be in a minority, but I found the sentiment intellectually dishonest.

Pi’s family runs a city-owned zoo in Pondicherry.  The family owns the animals, but the city owns the land.  Their father, a practical man, realizes that the animals are worth more to North American zoos; enough, in fact, to set the family on a new path.  He arranges passage for the animals and his family on a Japanese freighter.  The freighter is capsized in a storm in the deep Pacific and Pi is left on a lifeboat in the company of several wounded animals including the so-well advertised tiger.

Nearly the entire movie from this point on is one amazing, seamless special effects shot.  The water, the sky, the animals: they’re all computer generated and you’ll rarely, if ever, notice.  The animals interact with each other, the boat and the rest of the environment seamlessly.  In many films the “star” effect is excellent but leaves few resources for the support effects; in “Pi” the quality and attention to detail is maintained across the entire production.  Later in the film there are stunning, possibly hallucinatory, sequences with bioluminescent sea creatures that literally take the breath away.

[It’s worth noting that the visual effects won the team at Rhythm and Hues LA an Oscar, a BAFTA and several other high-profile awards.  They also bankrupted the company in what has become a rallying cry against slim margins, fixed-bids and lack of royalties that’s ravishing the global effects community. has a good overview of the situation here.]

Suffice to say that Pi suffers greatly, but learns much, on his journey.  I won’t spoil the final question posed by the film although it makes discussing the story much less enjoyable.  I will say that you may end up reviewing certain scenes with the revealed information and will likely end up more confused than satisfied.  I have been told that the book clarifies most of my complaints while, incidentally, also better incorporating the religious meandering that I considered nothing more than a distraction.  The sumptuous visuals of the film would carry it alone, but the touching and thought-provoking story lifts it to greatness.

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