New Release Review - Life of Pi

Directed by: Ang Lee
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu, Tabu

A writer (Spall) is recounted a fantastic tale by Pi (Khan), the sole survivor of a shipwreck.
The writer is intent on hearing Pi's tale as an acquaintance has claimed it will have such an impact as to make him believe in God. Pi begins by telling him of his childhood in India where his family ran a zoo. As a child, he experiments with various religions, cherry-picking philosophies from each, much to the annoyance of his father, a man of reason. One of the young Pi's favorite animals is Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger mistakenly named after the hunter who captured it. When the family decide to move the zoo to Canada, the ship they are journeying on sinks, leaving the teenage Pi alone at sea. However, he's not quite alone, as Richard Parker has made his way onto the same lifeboat. Respecting the animal too much to kill it, Pi vows to keep them both alive.
"Art is never finished, only abandoned", Leonardo Da Vinci once remarked. It's a piece of advice many film-makers would be wise to heed. Too many of them try to ram their messages down our throats, usually, as is the case here, by sacrificing the ambiguity of images for the bluntness of words. The great storyteller poses questions, the poor one attempts to answer them. The artist, and the film-maker particularly, should opt for the question over the answer, for, in artistic terms, an answer is merely a question with the romance removed. At the end of 'Life of Pi', Pi asks the writer character a question. As viewers, we answer it ourselves. This is where the screen should go black and the credits should roll. Instead Lee allows the writer to answer. It's one of the most cretinous film moments of the year, similar to the horrific ending of 'We Bought a Zoo', another film which ends on an unromantic answer.
There's an impressive movie trapped inside 'Life of Pi' but it would require much editing to extract it. The awful expositional bookends would have to go for a start. An even worse offender is the preachy voice-over, constantly and unnecessarily describing the action on screen. I can't help think voice-overs are being imposed on film-makers to cater to those cretins who insist on texting during movies. A significant number of audience members seemingly would rather listen to a film than watch one and it's those Philistines who are being looked after while us lovers of the image are left to grumble unanswered. Something which is most definitely imposed on directors is 3D. The great lie of 3D is that objects jump out of the screen. They don't! Despite the false extra dimension, nothing can actually leave the frame. Lee finds a way to cheat on this restriction by changing the aspect ratio for a sequence involving flying fish. Black bars appear at the top and bottom of the screen so that the fish can jump over them, thus appearing to leave the screen. It's a clever gimmick, but a gimmick nonetheless and an admission of 3D's superficiality.
Lee knows how to make a visually impressive movie, if only Hollywood would give him the freedom to do so.
5/10
Life of Pi (2012) on IMDb 8.3/10

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