Film: The “unfilmable” book makes its way to the silver screen

By Will Ashton | wa054010@ohiou.edu
Life of Pi | Directed by Ang Lee | Rated PG
RATING: 4/5

Since its release in 2001, Yann Mantel’s novel Life of Pi has gone on to inspire and influence people in ways very few books are able to today.

President Barack Obama, before his time in the White House, wrote a letter to Mantel gushing about his love of the book and stating that it is “an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” It won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 2002, and is often considered, next to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and some others, as one of the best books of the past decade.

Needless to say, the book’s success peaked the ears of Hollywood and worked its way on the silver screen. Despite the term “un-filmable” being thrown around and being tossed around to various different directors, the book is now a film.

But is it a good film? Yes. Not only is it good, it’s downright great.

The story follows Piscine “Pi” Patel, a young boy in India who struggles to determine what is truly the real passage of God. Being Hindu, Christian, and Islam, he is often teased and questioned, even from his family, for his uncertain idealisms.

It’s not until his family’s zoo goes for sale and he begins moving to Canada that his life’s purpose truly begins to find meaning. When the ship carrying himself and his family sinks in a terrible storm, Pi is left stranded in the middle of the ocean for many days in a lifeboat alongside a tiger named Richard Parker. As their journey grows longer on the sea, each are able to grow and bond, and Pi is finally able to find the true value of God in his life.

Admittedly, Life of Pi is not a movie that starts off fantastic. For the first 30 minutes, focusing on Pi’s childhood and growing up in India, the movie begins as a rather average and traditional tale of a boy struggling to find his way in life. Despite India always looking beautiful, thanks to cinematography by Claudio Miranda, the movie never truly delves into any points or themes that have not already been found in other films before it.

It’s not until the ship wrecks and Pi’s adventure on the boat begins that the film really becomes great. Oddly enough, the scenes between Pi and Richard Parker — the very scenes that likely scared away most directors from this project and what determined the film to be considered by many to be “un-filmable” — are the ones that are the greatest.

The special effects for this film, provided by Rhythm and Hues Studios, are astounding; there are easily the best digital visual effects that I have seen all year. All the animals look photo realistic, and because of this, we, the audience, are able to buy into the film’s story. I would be shocked if this movie didn’t get a nomination for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars, let alone the win.

This is not an easy film to make, but director Ang Lee makes it seem seamless in his ability to strike such beautiful imagery onto the film’s story and messages. While it will get very heavy-handed at times, it is a movie that’s actually powerful and beautiful enough that its strong-hitting messages are effective. Lee is such a gifted storyteller that is able to bring such importance to even the simplest of aspects in the story, which makes them among the most powerful in the film. He is even able to make a CG-animated look and feel like a fleshed-out character.

Life of Pi is one of the most outright “spiritual” films to be made by a major studio in years, maybe even decades. Unlike Flight, which pretty much forced you to buy into its God-driven beliefs, Life of Pi wishes to have you grow and understand the power of God, much like its main protagonist. The biggest fault of most religious movies is that it expects too much from audiences right off the bat. What makes this movie so effective in its religious values is that, not only is it able to make it seem accessible to wide audiences, but it even allows its religious messages to be open for interruption. Something most religious movies fail to allow, even an option.

Suraj Sharma, who, primarily, plays Pi throughout the film, was selected from 3,000 different actors for the part, and for good reason. As the lead character acting against a CG tiger for 75% of the movie’s running time, he has a lot of weight to caring on his shoulders. Despite the hefty expectations, Sharma does a wonderful job as Pi. He is able to give the character a great deal of depth and emotional complexity, without making it become oversaturated. He, effortlessly, is able to work against his animated co-star and make it all seem real. This is his first acting job too, which is even more impressive.

Life of Pi was a film many years in the making, and Lee, despite being a masterful filmmaker, had big shoes to fill. Yet, he does a wonderful job adaptation this book to the screen, along with screenwriter David Magee, and provides us with one of the beautiful films made this year, both visually and thematically.

Adaptations of books are hard as they are already. There is a popular quote that “great books make terrible movies,” and visa versa. While this is something I never believed nor took to heart, with adapting a book as challenging to send mainstream as Life of Pi, it can grow understandable.

My brother, a man who considers this to be one of the best books he has ever read, walked out of this film believing that this was, bar none, “one of the best adaptations to film ever done.” I may not say such a statement, but Life of Pi is definitely one of the best movies I have seen this year. It’s not only a film you see, but one you experience, and in 3-D too.

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1 comment
  1. carol schroeder said:

    Will. . . great review!! Makes me want to see the movie for sure!!
    thanks for sending it to me!
    hope your semester went well!

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