By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2012--LIFE OF PI  Send This Review to a Friend

In a triumph of technology as well as storytelling, director Ang Lee has given us a masterly adventure saga in 3-D. "Life of Pi" is based on the award-winning novel by Yann Martel, with a screenplay by David Magee. The film has segments of sheer visual genius, involving a harrowing storm at sea, a 22-day journey of survival aboard a lifeboat, interaction with a Bengal tiger, depiction of creatures of the sea, flying fish and other aspects of the world of nature. One has to admire Lee and his extensive team for getting all of that on screen by maximizing what is possible in this digital age. Above all, “Life of Pi” is a visual knockout.

But technique is little without a gripping story to keep one involved. This one details at the outset the life of an Indian family, with the particularly closeness in which the family members exist. Pi Patel, endearingly played by Suraj Sharma, is an Indian lad with a warm relationship with his father, which pays off emotionally when Pi loses his family in a spectacularly shown storm that overwhelms the ship on which they are sailing.

The frightening situation, with the huge waves, the water invading the ship and its sinking with a cargo of animals, is enthralling to watch. Pi, while shouting for his trapped family, gets shoved into a lifeboat. He soon discovers there is a scared tiger aboard. The story takes further shape in Pi’s lonely efforts to survive, using prayers, his brains and the opportunity to catch fish in order to keep alive, as well as what supplies are stacked in the lifeboat.

The dangerous presence of the digitally created tiger, hungry and resourceful, provides a special peril. It also offers the set-up for Pi’s managing to bond with the animal. After a while the situation grows overly cute, but just when that happens, the scene is shook up and the element of survival looms large. Eventually, of course, Pi does survive, but not before we are taken through a nature tour unlike any other.

The twist to the story is the meeting between a writer (Rafe Sapll) and an older Pi (Irrfan Khan), and his relating that his tale was not believed by insurance company inquirers. Whereupon Pi says he told them a more conventional story of how he came through the shipwreck. That seemed to satisfy them more.

The older Pi asks the writer which story he believes. In effect the question is addressed to us, the audience. Which will you believe? No matter. For movie-going, what we see, courtesy of Ang Lee and company, is the one that counts. A 20th Century Fox release.. Reviewed as shown at 2012 New York Film Festival.


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