Written by / 11/24/2012 / 1 Comment /

LIFE OF PI

year: 2012 cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan rating: ***
Strangely enough, this adventure about a young man from India who survives a shipwreck, and is then stranded on a lifeboat with a ferocious tiger, is more interesting on land. The first twenty minutes has an older Pi telling a backstory of a rather unique childhood.

Named after a swimming pool that sounds like the word “Piss,” and then changing it to the mathematical equation to escape taunts of fellow students, Pi has an intense father who runs a zoo with a tiger that becomes, for a cerebral awe-struck child, something tangible to marvel at. Director Ang Lee smoothly glides us from the zoo to the schoolyard to the city streets to our inevitable destination: the family on a Japanese Ship bound for Canada with the zoo animals along. 

A formidable storm causes the ship to go down, stranding our young hero on a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra and a Bengal tiger, resembling Alfred Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT if produced by National Geographic.

We quickly dwindle to boy and tiger, making the other animals – important in the book and covering many pages – not only a buffet for the tiger to snack on under the canopy-half of the boat, but somewhat unnecessary to the storyline.      

In the film’s best scenes, Pi builds a smaller makeshift raft, and like THE BLACK STALLION but with the stakes raised – a horse is easy compared to a man eating predator – there’s a progressively budding relationship between young man and beast: from an attempted taming to an ultimate "kinship," nothing else should matter but this very odd couple lost (and battling elements) at sea.

But there’s plenty of downtime where Pi contemplates life and, like he did back home, philosophizes God and existence – during these moments of dead calm you’ll wish for a rejuvenated tiger or another grand scale shipwreck. 

Young actor Suraj Sharma does a great job as a boy surviving on his own instincts, becoming an Indian version of MacGyver in the process… figuring out ways to keep himself, and the tiger, alive with the sparse means available… but the story doesn’t always equal the intensity or determination of the character.

While a neon-colored whale in ultraviolet water, a mob of flying fish or an island of meercats are neat to look at, the handsome aesthetics often turn a story worthy of Melville and London into navel-gazing art-house fare.

Yet despite the flaws, LIFE OF PI is a beautiful movie that will keep you intrigued in the outcome: if not for the survival aspect alone. Therein lies the real adventure...
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