AFI 2012 Review: Life of Pi

'You know what The Perfect Storm and Titanic were missing? Zebras swimming through the flooded hallways.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Life of Pi is porn for my survival fetish. If you haven’t been following me, I’ll fill you in. I am obsessed with survival stories, particularly but not limited to post-apocalyptic survival stories. What really does it for me is when the survivors have to find supplies and make do with whatever is available to them. Life of Pi has some of the greatest supplies in cinema history, and it didn’t even have to cheat like Cast Away with the Fedex packages.

Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan) is telling his story to a potential biographer (Rafe Spall). Young Pi (Suraj Sharma) grows up in India in his family’s zoo, but tough times force them to sell the animals and move. However, their boat is shipwrecked, stranding Pi on a life raft with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. A boy, a tiger and a life raft = Fred’s dream movie.

There’s a lot of story on this little life raft. I want to convince you of that but I don’t want to give away any of the little details about how Pi occupies his days at sea. Just imagine all the different ways he tries to make peace with a wild animal that could kill him quicker than dehydration or starvation will. The CG looks like CG, but good CG. I mean, you can’t train a real tiger to climb on a life raft. But oh man, how awesome would that be if you could, right?

The relationship with Richard Parker is significant and gives a lot of momentum to the survival story. There’s also the basic joy (for me watching, not for those enduring) of daily routines, supplies stored on the life raft and the makeshift supplies Pi manufactures for himself. The shipwreck itself is pretty harrowing too. You know what The Perfect Storm and Titanic were missing? Zebras swimming through the flooded hallways.

Oh yeah, this movie is in 3D and directed by Ang Lee so the 3D photography is gorgeous. Shots of the open ocean at night, giving way to sunrise and sea life are like Discovery Channel HD in the hands of a master cinematographer (Claudio Miranda). I don’t even want to spoil what some of the beautiful images are later in the film. Even before the ocean, shots of the zoo, floating candles and under the pier are beautiful 3D images.

Lee plays with the 3D too. He’s not afraid to poke stuff out of the screen, and he also plays with the aspect ratio to toy with the 3D even further.

The wraparound with old Pi is not obnoxious. That’s the best thing I can say about a wraparound, that it doesn’t ruin the movie. The narration totally disappears once the shipwreck happens, so the bulk of the movie is just pure storytelling. I wish authors would stop feeling they have to frame their stories with a wraparound device. It’s the Saving Private Ryan syndrome. Your story is good enough without framing. But it’s a thing, and the epilogue does something I find unnecessary but it’s interesting. In fact, it’s interesting enough that you’d ask: why didn’t you introduce that suggestion in the beginning so it impacts the whole movie? Why throw it in there at the end? Again, doesn’t ruin it, and being interesting is better than being pointless, and I can’t tell you more specifically about it.

As I’m concluding my Life of Pi review, something just occurred to me. This must be the tiger that was crouching and hidden! Oh, funny jokes. I totally loved Life of Pi and I have a little fun with how it’s made, but it is a fast paced rousing adventure. Considering the limited setting, it creates a lot more story per square foot than almost any Hollywood blockbuster.