Any book lover knows that a story translated from the page to the silver screen is a slippery slope. Especially if the book is universally revered, like Life of Pi. And what director in his right mind would attempt to make one that dedicated 75% of the story to a boy and a Bengal tiger on a life raft???
Turns out, the project passed through the hands of many directors over the years until it landed in the lap of Ang Lee, a guy known to take a chance or two. Casting an all-international lineup, and making heavy use of visual effects, I think most lovers of this book figured it would be an epic winner or an epic failure.
For those who are not familiar with the plot, I'll give you the two-cent tour. Piscine Patel was born of an upper middle-class family in India who made their living by owning and operating a zoo. Although his family was Hindu, at 14 Pi began to explore Christianity and Islam as well. When the political environment began to get dicey in India, the family decided to take their animals and cross the Atlantic to Canada in a Japanese freighter. Except there is a storm, the boat goes down, and Pi finds himself in a life raft with a hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan, and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. As you can imagine, after a short span of time, only the tiger and the boy are left, and they must learn to co-exist in order to survive.
The actors are fairly unrecognizable. Irrfan Khan, the adult Pi, actually has a respectable resume, with such movies as "The Namesake", "Slumdog Millionaire" and "The Amazing Spider-Man" under his belt. But the bulk of the movie sits on the shoulders of a 19-year-old actor named Suraj Sharma, who makes his debut here. And he does a wonderful job.
The visual effects were stunning. I'm not completely sure how much of the filming was real tiger, meercat, hyena, zebra and orangutan, and how much was computer imagery, but the fact that I can't tell is a real testament to the work of the team. As an animal lover myself, I was wooed completely. I wanted to hold Richard Parker's big cat head in my lap too.
The film did the book proud. I can't think of one departure from the original story, and for this reason I am satisfied. The story DOES move slow, but if you have read the book, you know this. Pi is on the ocean for a very long time with Richard Parker. Will it win any awards at the big dance this year? I doubt it. But it's imagery will be forever imprinted on my mind.
4 out of 5 stars (Per Sandy)
3.5 out of 5 stars (Per Sandy's husband, who has not read the book)