With only a couple of days left in 2012, the Oscar-talk is getting bigger and bigger. Life of Pi is one of the contenders, but probably won’t win any ‘important’ prize. One it definitively will win, is the award for visual effects. And deservedly so, because Life of Pi is the first movie since Avatar where the use of three dimensions really enriches the viewing experience.
I’m not really a big fan of 3D. I’m not really against it, either. Usually it doesn’t do much for me, and sometimes it just makes action scenes blurry and harder to follow. But other times, the use of three dimensions makes it easier to be drawn into the story that is being told on screen. This happened to me exactly four times. First, Pixar’s Up did it, then James Cameron managed to do it with Avatar for a second and third time. After that, it took three years for a 3D movie to have this kind of effect on me (and on the rest of the audience, judging by the absence of annoying voices) again. Ang Lee uses the three dimensions so spectacularly, Life of Pi may be the best 3D movie to date. And that includes Avatar.
The story of Life of Pi was completely new to me. I haven’t read the book and saw the trailer only once. I was aware that the movie was about a shipwrecked boy, who ends up in a small boat on the middle of the ocean. With a tiger. But the story is not the main reason why you should see this movie.1 Just see this movie for the beautiful scenery, pictures and animals. There are several moments that couldn’t have been better filmed, like the magical island and the fluorescent whale splashing water in the night. When an animal plays a big part in a movie, like Richard Parker2 in Life of Pi, you know the animations and visual effects have to be really good. If the audience doesn’t believe the tiger -and the threat- is real, they will never fully engage with the story. When watching Pi, you can never tell whether you are looking at a real tiger or a computer-generated beast, which is a huge accomplishment. You can’t see it in the eyes of actor Suraj Sharma, who is extraordinary as Pi Patel, either.3 The tiger isn’t the only beautiful creature in the film. Other stand-outs are the aforementioned whale, glowing jellyfish (who reminded me of the floating ‘spirits’ in Avatar) and thousands of meerkats.
Some people held the belief that the novel by Yann Martel couldn’t be translated to the big screen. You hear that a lot when people really care about a book. We’ve heard it with Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and, more recently Cloud Atlas and The Hobbit. Sometimes it turns out to be true, but with Life of Pi, Ang Lee uses every cinematic tool available to make the transition a success.
- The story itself is good, but not great. It’s mostly about belief and faith and I won’t spoil the ending here, but it has some food for thought. ↩
- The name of the tiger should have been Thirsty, but was switched when he arrived at the zoo. ↩
- It’s strange how his name never comes up in any best-actor-conversations. Acting 99% of the time before a green-screen, and no real person to act with normally does the trick. Few performances this year have been better. ↩