The Life of Pi Ang Lee
The first movie of the new year for me, this was better than I had expected, but not as good as it should have been. When I wrote my review of the book for last year's fiftyfiftyme challenge, I talked about my fears that the film would Disneyfy the story. It did, in a way, but not in the way that I expected.
The major flaw with the film is summed up in the tagline shown in the poster above. It reads, "BELIEVE THE UNBELIEVABLE", while other marketing describes it as "a film that will make you believe in God". The film replaces ambiguity and personal choice with crudely simplistic certainty. At one point In the film the narrator says to the adult Pi "You said the story would make me believe in God", and Pi replies, "Yes, that will come". He never says anything of the sort in the book. The character who tells the narrator about Pi says that, Pi does not.
The book is all about the choice to believe or not to believe. Pi made a choice, and although it seems fairly clear that he encourages readers to make the same one, in the book that is all he does, encourage and suggest by implication. The book does not "make you believe in God" or order you to "believe the unbelievable". This dogmatism runs counter to the spirit of the book, and it's easy to see why many fans of the book were disappointed, some even angrily so, at what the film makers did. I was not angry, because I expected something like this to happen. The nuance in the book was swept away in favour of the visual spectacle.
The film did not do justice to the book's theme, but it certainly did to its imagery. Especially the 3D - simply stunning. Gorgeous and beautifully effective. There was an almost complete absence of gimmicky "in your face" 3D, instead the film's 3D added depth and believability to the imagery. It was a beautiful experience, easily as good as Hugo, the only other film I liked for its 3D. The film brought many of the images of the book to life with perfect faithfulness and in doing so, brought the book back to mind. I squirmed through scenes in the film that I squirmed through while reading. The CGI was equally superb. It may not have made anyone believe in God, but it was very easy to believe that Suraj Sharma as the young Pi was sharing a boat with a very real Bengal tiger.
Another highlight of the film for me was the Indian presence. Suraj Sharma as the young Pi was very good, remarkably so for a debut performance. Watching him in this made me think about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and how much better that film could have been with an Indian actor playing the lead, rather than a British actor of Indian origin. Irrfan did very well as the adult Pi too, although the simplification of the storyline wasted his talent a bit.The highlight of the casting for me was seeing Tabu back on screen.I'd completely forgotten she was in it, and was very excited when I saw her. Her role was not large, but it was so good to see one of my favourite Indian actresses getting significant screen time again.
My sister-in-law said of the book after seeing the film "I will have to track it down. I've never been a book worm but it's such an incredible story". I hope that the film encourages people to make the same choice she did, because the book lets its readers make their own choice, in a way this visually rich and beautiful film did not.