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Monday, October 8, 2012

LIFE OF PI

By D.E.Levine

A NYFF50 Premiere

Director Ang Lee has given us another brilliant and extraordinary film.  Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, the film is focused on the Patel family who run a zoo in Pondicherry, India.

Having decided to leave India and emigrate to Canada, the family sets sail, along with selected animals from the zoo, to cross the ocean on a freighter..

After a shipwreck, the sole survivor, 16-year-old Pi is left adrift in a 26-foot lifeboat along with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450 pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

All of the lifeboat occupants are fighting for survival against the elements, starvation and each other.

Films that are adapted from novels frequently fall short of expectations but Ang Lee has managed to provide a film that is sensitive, surprising and beautifully photographed.

Ang Lee was modest about his accomplishments during interviews, but the main portion of the book takes place on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with only a boy and a tiger upon which to focus, and both the boy and the tiger must take direction.

Bringing the novel to the screen was not without problems.Several big name directors have been involved and bowed out.  Lee signed on in 2009 and began working with writer David Magee to adapt the novel into a screenplay. The seemingly effortless result was actually many years in the making.

Not to give the story away since it is a fantasy, the important thing to remember is that Lee is always in control of the story and the actors.  The film gives the impression that a confident director is actually enjoying himself rather than laboring to produce the end product.

The center of the story is belief, whether it be in religion or science.  Early on in the film Pi explains at dinner why he believes in all gods and all religions rather than one god and one religion.

The special effects are also amazing.  I'm still trying to figure out how Lee achieved some of the scenes because I know realistically they couldn't be done and yet they look perfectly natural.

Suraj Sharma who plays the teenage Pi is performing in his first acting role and gives a spectacular performance.  Not only is he new to acting but he had to play to green screen and to a live tiger - both of which are major accomplishments.  Yet, you can't tell that special effects were used because they all look so real.

I was unable to get Fox to tell me what the budget actually was, but judging by the technology that's up on the screen, this is a big budget film.  However, the fabulous look and story are throughout the film, not limited to just one or two scenes.  Lee keeps us on the edge of our seats with amazing happenings yet makes us believe they are real.

It's in 3D which enhances the film even more making everything look bigger, better and more vibrant.  Ang Lee has given us a classic which will become part of the not-to-be-missed films everyone must and will automatically see.