- Film Rating -

REVIEW: “LIFE OF PI”

| 11/26/2012 | 0 Comments

Ang Lee must have a tiny filmmaker bucket list left, because he’s damn near tackled and mastered almost every genre.  From western to costume drama to comic book and with his ability to depict cultures not his own, he has inspired me as a filmmaker  and was one of the main reasons I chose to write LEAVE IT ON THE FLOOR, despite my lack of insider status in that world.  His latest, LIFE OF PI, based on the runaway bestselling novel, places Lee squarely and securely within  action adventure territory.  The film, however, has more on its mind, with its explorations of spirituality and the nature of storytelling itself.

Things start off nicely with a gorgeous 3D title sequence, showing the various animals in a zoo that will become a prime force in the tale.  Unfortunately, there is a LOT of backstory to muddle through before getting to that damned boat.  A lot of it involves an explanation as to how our title character arrived at his name.  While it sets up Pi as a resourceful outcast, I’m not convinced that it ties together with the lesson learned over the course of the film.  I was convinced that watching him write out the entire formula for pi would payoff down the road; that his astute memory would come in handy while navigating or something.  But no, it’s just a LOT of exposition piled on. Much time is also spent as our hero explores various religions, all of which turns out to be relevant.  I couldn’t help but thinking, however, that the 20th Century Fox brass were urging Lee to “get on that boat already” when their inevitable notes came down from on high.  The very same studio fought with (and won) to make James Cameron get Sigourney Weaver to that “damn planet” already in ALIENS.

Because once you’re on that boat with Pi, the film truly takes off and never loses momentum.  It’s a truly gripping survival tale watching the young man cope with the tides, a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger, not to mention his own sanity.  The 3D, much like with AVATAR, is used for depth rather than for a plethora of in-your-face effects (although there are a couple of those), and it’s gorgeous.  I was especially impressed with the way the underwater photography enhanced the 3D perspective. Bookending the film is a fairly tiresome discussion between a writer and Pi as an adult.  The topics of religion and the truth in storytelling get a pretty obvious workout here, and, for me, it spelled things out, underlined them, and put them in bold.  I could have done without it entirely and enjoyed a masterful adventure in which the existence of God plays a major role.  Whether you’re a proponent of religion or science, LIFE OF PI is a stirring entertainment once it gets on that damn boat!  It didn’t get me in the gut, but it’s certainly a worthy addition to Ang Lee’s legacy.

Glenn Gaylord is an award-winning Writer/Director/Producer and graduate of the UCLA School of Film and Television.

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