Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The only math in Life of Pi is in the CGI

Life of Pi is a gorgeous film, a visual feast — once you get used to the 3D.  I’m glad  the technology exists allowing stories like Life of Pi to be told by great directors like Ang Lee, without harming any animals, but I do wish film publicists and marketers wouldn’t tell me about it.   I prefer not to wonder if the birds and mammals and reptiles in the Patel family zoo in Pondicherry, India, are real or CGI.  As for 3D, I continue to find it distracting. Film is a 2-dimensional art form.  3D is provided by the human mind, which needs no techno-tricks.

As for the story:  The Patel family runs a zoo in India.  Financial realities lead the father to pack up the zoo animals and his family to head for Canada.  This is no luxury liner, the family cannot even get vegetarian meals — just rice.  The zoo animals are stowed below decks and sedated (in an attempt to allay the inevitable seasickness and fear).  When a storm at sea tosses people overboard and sinks the ship, it tossed most thoughts of technology out of my mind.  The storm was magnificent, the zebra swimming, the zebra leaping, all these things known to be CGI captivated me.

Mind you, I cannot help thinking, in the case of Life of Pi, if wondering what’s real and what’s technologically contrived, mayn’t have been, at least partially, the point.  What’s real?  What’s not? Which reality would you choose?

Life of Pi is beautifully filmed (can it even be called that anymore?  Is it not “generated” nowadays?), and Mr. Lee’s collaboration with cinematographer Claudio Miranda and editor Tim Squyres has not only created a work of art, but told a riveting story.  The animals are magnificent and have personalities and roles to play — the Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, Orange Juice the orangutan, the poor zebra, and the hateful hyena.  We come to know the charming Piscine Patel (and the young boy’s story of how he came to call himself Pi is a delight) from early days at the zoo to life on the ship to survival at sea.  The stories this movie told kept me rapt, tethered to that lifeboat with Pi and Richard Parker. Who would care if he was hallucinating by the time he got to the nocturnally toxic island of the meercats.  Meercats!

Pi and Richard Parker’s survival on the ocean, learning to fish, the wonder of the whale, the light, above and beneath the surface of the ocean, all these things enveloped me.  I never questioned that reality.  Only representatives of the shipping company who owned the sunken ship would do so.  I prefer the beautiful story to the brief horrid story Pi tells them. The latter made excellent sense, and casting certain people as certain animals was much more likely than the story the audience witnesses with Pi.  Nevertheless, I prefer the original story.  Giving the audience the opportunity to examine the nature of truth is unusual,   exciting, and telling. 

In addition to the wonderful animals, there were simple, realistic human performances by Suraj Sharma as Pi (Piscine) Patel for most of the film (Pi is also winningly played by Ayush Tandon and Gautam Belur in his childhood), Tabu as Pi’s mother, Adil Hussain as his father, Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi Patel, and finally Gerard Depardieu played the vile ship’s cook to perfection.
Suraj Sharma as Pi, Richard Parker as himself.
Ang Lee’s film of Life of Pi is clever, heartfelt, and a brilliant telling of a thoroughly engaging story, which encourages me to read the original novel by Yann Martel.  Mr. Lee’s specialty as a director is the human heart, which is why his films of Sense and Sensibility, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain and now Life of Pi, despite being so extraordinarily different, all work so extremely well. 

~ Molly Matera, looking forward to seeing the film at home:  A good story still works on a smaller screen in 2D 

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