Susan Granger’s review of “Life of Pi” (Fox 2000)
Adapting Yann Martel’s acclaimed novel for the screen was a daunting challenge, one that Oscar-winning director Ang Lee tackled with inspired imagination. This exquisitely enchanting, emotionally engaging, spiritual fantasy begins and ends in Montreal, where a writer (Rafe Spall) is interviewing middle-aged Picine Militor Patel (Irrfan Khan), who relates the incredible adventure of his life as a thoughtful meditation on God.
Named after a Parisian swimming pool, curious Picine, known as Pi, grew up as Hindu/Catholic in Pondicherry, a former French colony in southern India, where his father (Adil Hussain) ran a zoo. Forced by economic stress, the family plans to move their menagerie to Canada. But when their Japanese cargo ship sinks in a terrifying storm, teenage Pi (Suraj Sharma) is stranded on a lifeboat with a wounded zebra, an orange orangutan, a manic hyena and a ferocious Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker. For 227 days, he manages to survive, adrift in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, courageously coping with grief, faith and that ravenous tiger.
Working from a sensitive, lyrical screenplay by David Magee (“Finding Neverland”), who effectively adapts the symbolic, Robinson Crusoe-like, coming-of-age fable, Ang Lee filmed in India and Taiwan, where a huge water tank was constructed in the central city of Taichung. His primary problem was coping with the animals on a churning sea and he credits cutting-edge 3-D technology for achieving the vividly striking, visually stunning effects he wanted – with David Gropman’s elegant production design and Mychael Danna’s evocative score.
Known for his versatility, Ang Lee’s credits include “Brokeback Mountain,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The Ice Storm,” “Hulk” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Here, Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda capture with impeccable craftsmanship, Pi’s engaging encounters with Richard Parker, flying fish, luminous sea creatures and a surreal, carnivorous island populated by meerkats.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Life of Pi” is an awesome, astounding 10. It’s not only one of the best pictures of the year but also must be seen in 3-D on as big a screen as possible.