The present cinematic climate is plagued by shallow productions that utilize large explosions, killer robots, and computer-generated creatures with Gumby-like mannerisms to enhance the 3D experience at $15 a seat.
However, within this misshapen cluster of films that are rapidly soaring in the direction opposite of bona fide story telling, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” proves quite the breath of fresh air.
After previously enriching the theatrical soil with masterpieces such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Brokeback Mountain”, Lee uses the premise of Yann Martel’s original novel as a vehicle to ultimately convey that artistic lighting can indeed strike in the same place not twice, but three times.
The premise of “Life of Pi” unfolds through the accounts of an Indian man named Piscene Molitor Patel, or “Pi” (Irrfan Khan). We see Patel as a child growing up as the son of a zookeeper in Puducherry India, before ultimately being forced into relocating to Canada as a result of monetary hardships. This is where Patel’s narrative begins to take shape; one that he explains will cause many to find faith in an omniscient deity. The Japanese ship that is transporting Patel and his family across the Pacific Ocean is caught in a powerful tempest that drowns everyone on board save a 16-year-old Patel (Suraj Sharma), a ravenous hyena, an injured zebra, a seasick orangutan, and a ferocious Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. As Darwinian law would have it, the 5 survivors are ultimately reduced to two castaways in Patel and Richard Parker.
For the bulk of the film, the audience shares in the desperate attempts at survival carried out by both Patel and his feline companion, who subsequently learns it is in his best interest not to eat the skinny boy. The unlikely duo forms a symbiotic relationship as they rely on one another for motivation, alertness, provisions, even camaraderie.
Lee brilliantly uses 3D technology not to make the audience very aware that they are watching a film, but instead to place the viewer within Pi’s lifeboat. All 3 dimensions teach the audience to feel the character’s emotions of fear, joyfulness, and sadness because the viewer is completely immersed in not only the picture before them, but also the masterful storytelling that is taking place.
Completely shedding itself of 3D film stereotypes of being mindless eye-candy, “Life of Pi” masters its utilization of technological advancements. The nautical adventure beckons the audiences “oohs” and “ahhs” as a man in a swimming pool treads water over their heads, a cluster of meerkats scurry across their laps, and a ferocious Bengal tiger with a large appetite leaps at their throats. Yet it is not the visual stimulation alone that champions the film, but its flawless fusion of the visual, the emotional, and even the spiritual strings of human hearts. “Life of Pi” has much to show about the interactions of man and beast, has much to say about the relationship between man and God, and accomplishes both through an organic and technological collaboration of brilliance.