Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Life of Pi

Film #201

THE PLOT

A young man who survives a disaster at sea is hurtled into an epic journey of adventure and discovery. While cast away, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor… a fearsome Bengal tiger.

Year 1, Day 198

BEFORE: I’m back in Boston and I also go back to the theaters. Life of Pi, the eleven-time nominee for this year’s Academy Awards including the big categories (Best Picture, Best Director - Ang Lee) is first up on my mission to watch all of this year’s Best Picture nominees (I’ve already seen four of them). Life of Pi looks very interesting. The entire film (or most of it at least) takes place on a lifeboat with just a man and a tiger. Given all the positive feedback from critics it seems this works and I’m a big fan of one-location films (Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder and Rear Window are just two great examples). But there wasn’t anything from the trailers that really hooked me in. Maybe it’s one of those films where you need to see things in context rather than fragment chunks spliced together.

AFTER: If there’s only one thing to say about Life of Pi it’s that Ang Lee was able to film the “un-filmable novel”. First off some disclaimers: as per usual, I have not read the book so I went into this film as an outsider, not knowing what was going to happen. Having read the book may have answered some of my questions an alleviated some of my concerns, but as I’ll get to in a bit, there’s a bit of a surprise. Besides the story, I’d also like to talk about the visuals which I think really helped define the film and made it much more powerful.

I’m not going to get all that specific in terms of plot, because spoilers, but there’s still a lot to discuss. If I had any complaints about this film it would be about it’s story. In case you are wondering, there is more to this film than just Pi (Suraj Sharma) and a tiger on a boat, stranded in the middle of the ocean. I really enjoyed the beginning of the film which is very much like a sped up version of Pi’s childhood. You really get to know this character before you spend the next hour plus in the ocean. After the opening, the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) stops narrating and you are left with Pi and a variety of animals trying to survive. This middle part is where I had, not necessarily problems, but questions that irked me. Pi spent 227 days at sea (not a spoiler: the adult Pi is seen right in the beginning, ergo he eventually found land) and they only saw one other ship (which does not notice their calls for help), suffered through one storm (besides the shipwrecking incident that creates this scenario), and seem to suffer no illnesses despite severe lack of food and water and harsh environments (sun, temperature, prolonged exposure to water). Again, these questions may have been better explained in the novel where there is much more room and freedom to elaborate. And up until the end, I was going to mark these under the negatives column for the film, but then, everything changed. The ending was a big surprise for me and while it didn’t answer my questions, it made me not care about those anymore. I don’t want to hype this ending up to much (welp, too late for that) so that all you think about is what happens at the end. I mention it so that you wait until the end to pass judgement on the film.

The other aspect I wanted to talk about was the visuals. I think Life of Pi is my new favorite for the technical Oscars (Best Visual Effects, Cinematography, Film Editing) because the film is just breathtaking in all aspects. A large portion of the film deals with animals and I’m still not sure whether they used living creatures or if it was CGI (probably CGI, but man did they look real). The trippy, dream-like sequences, where bioluminescence played a big part, were also fantastically done. And most importantly, the shots of Pi, the tiger, and the boat. While there’s more than just this one setting, a large portion of the film does take place in and around this boat. And even at a good hour to hour and a half it was never boring. Something new was always happening, you saw things from new angles, and this “restriction” is actually one of the biggest benefits to the film. The ocean scenes are where Life of Pi lives and dies. The beginning and ending are very important as well, but it’s this middle act where you really connect with the characters and the struggles they are going through. And to do so while always being fresh and yet similar to what comes before is an amazing feat of filmmaking and it makes for great entertainment.

Much like I thought with Cloud Atlas, I was cautiously optimistic going into Life of Pi. I heard many great things about the film and then it was nominated for 11 Academy Awards this year, second only to Lincoln. But there was still some fear and doubt going in because the trailers didn’t have that hook. But as was the case with Cloud Atlas, so to is my opinion about Life of Pi. It’s a fantastically wonderful, amazing, and ambitious film. There are a few iffy moments throughout the film (also similar to the beginning of Cloud Atlas) but once you see the film as a whole, you really appreciate the journey you just took. So if you’re like me and were a bit hesitant about seeing Life of Pi based solely on the trailers, hesitate no longer.

RATING: 5 out of 5