The Life Of Pi
BY MICHAEL WALTERS
THE CANTANKEROUS CRITIC
“The Life Of Pi” is a feast for the eyes, with mush for brains. Based on a bestselling book, the story of a teenage boy and his Bengal tiger lost at sea isn’t the most obvious candidate for a holiday blockbuster, much less one in 3-D.
Director Ang Lee uses the added dimension to create a visually impressive world, but it ultimately doesn’t add up to much.
The story begins with Pi growing up in India, where his father runs a small zoo. These early scenes compellingly set the stage and introduce us to an intellectually curious boy looking for answers in the world. He hopscotches from one religion to another, from Hindu to Catholicism to Islam, looking for meaning, but never quite settles on any one of them.
Eventually, the family decides to set sail for Canada for a new land of opportunity, with most of their animals in storage down below. But a shipwreck claims the life of his family and the rest of the crew. This is easily the highpoint of the film’s special effects, but it’s not exactly Titanic.
Pi scrambles aboard a lifeboat, joined by a few of the animals, including a Bengal tiger. Much of the movie is essentially a struggle for survival as Pi and the tiger learn to coexist. This proves to take up the lion’s share of the movie’s running time.
Ang Lee has obviously learned a thing or two about digital effects from his experience on “The Hulk,” and he creates some gorgeous imagery. However, he also seems to have gotten a bad case of late-period George Lucas syndrome.
He’s become so amazed by the possibilities of digital effects, he mistakenly believes digital is just as good as the real thing. The tiger in particular is maddeningly inconsistent. It has a spellbinding attention to detail, but then it starts moving and it looks like something straight out of Jumanji.
The story also tries to have its cake and eat it too. It seems designed to appeal to the broadest possible segment of “people of faith,” with platitudes that wouldn’t be out of place in Deepak Chopra. But it never comes up with anything more than superficial and vague statements about a higher power.
These problems aside, one thing “Life Of Pi” doesn’t suffer from is a lack of ambition. It’s not entirely successful, but it’s not for lack of trying. Ang Lee taps into a shred of what made the book a bestseller, but audiences looking for a little nourishment might feel as famished as a Bengal tiger lost at sea.