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Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Life Of Pi

Directed by: Ang Lee

Produced by: Ang Lee
Gil Netter
David Womark

Screenplay by: David Magee

Based on: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Starring: Suraj Sharma
Irrfan Khan
Adil Hussain
Gerard Depardieu
Rafe Spall

Music by: Mychael Danna

Cinematography by: Claudio Miranda

Editing by: Tim Squyres

Studio(s): Rhythm & Hues
Fox 2000 Pictures

Distributed by: 20th Century Fox

Release date(s): November 21, 2012 (United States)
December 20, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 127 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $120 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $451, 679, 852

Alright there folks, me up to usual tricks, especially given that I was stupid enough to sleep in on Monday and miss a potential of three days work this week. Thankfully, I'm technically a private contractor, so I won't get reprimanded, but I won't be letting that happen again, rest assured. Also, I'm at present playing (and rather enjoying) the stealth action-adventure game Dishonoured. I do like my video games, but have started getting back into them with having absolutely ate up Max Payne 3. On a movie note, it's a shame that HMV has gone into administration. My good friend at Danland Movies has written a great article on the topic of the company's potential demise, and I share his sentiments in that it represents the potential decline of physical media. There is a great pleasure in walking around a store in the same way it's relaxing to browse in a physical library, to be surrounded by all this great (and terrible) art. I'm not a fan of digital media and downloading movies off of the Internet, and I only do it a couple of times a year if I'm finding it particularly hard to get a movie to review. I mean, it might seem like something to you, but yesterday I thought nothing of the expense of paying full-price for a copy of Dredd (which I watched and loved again!), not because of the money involved, but because I had now attained a physical copy of the film. Think what you want, but I feel that the weight of movies fades into something akin to uniformity if they're all files on a USB stick, and frankly, it's nowhere near as much fun browsing online as it is in a store. So, for more digressive discussions on the decline of physical media, unrelated art medium(s) and me making a Balzac of myself, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up to face The Central Scrutinizer (hello, Mr. Zappa!) is Life Of Pi. The film has been in development since 2003, not long after Yann Martel's novel of the same name (upon which the film based) was released. I read the novel when I was about fifteen or sixteen, and was mesmerised from start to finish. It truly is an excellent book, and it would be remiss of me to say it didn't deserve to stand alongside Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness as an equal fine piece of literature. The reason it has taken so long to adapt to the big screen is because although it's a well-worn cliche to say it (most reviewers seem to use it in relation to literary adaptations as a lazy buzz-term), but this is a classic case of the proverbial 'unfilmmable' book. At various points, M. Night Shymalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet had been attached to the project, but wasn't until Ang Lee signed on that the ball got rolling. Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), who had immigrated from India, is living in Montreal, Canada, and a novelist has been recommended by a family friend that Pi's life story would make a great book. To cut the exposition here (because the film tells it better than I do), Pi's is sixteen (Suraj Sharma) when his father sells the family zoo, and when they are travelling on a Japanese freighter to sell the animals in North America, the ship is sunk in the midst of a heavy storm and Pi is left shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker for company. Now you see why I reduced myself to buzz-terms!

Unfilmmable or not, Life Of Pi is a great adaptation of the source text. Ang Lee's approach to the film, catering the widest audience possible, is a masterstroke. No one will ever deny that Ang Lee knows how to make a great film, but here he enters into new and uncharted waters with the confidence and conviction of a James Cameron, someone who has worked on big-budgets with every film since The Terminator. What's interesting is that Lee's casting of the far-reaching net does not end up going for broke and coming up with nothing, but instead he succeeds in virtually all manner of ways. Life Of Pi is a wondrous film that has the magic of cinema that enchants us when we are introduced to Disney classics at a young age. Having it be a PG-rated film gives so many the chance to see an enchanting film. Also, the PG-rating does not detract from the intensity of Pi's situation. Lee does not shy away from some of the novel's harder material, but he does it in a brilliantly symbolic and textured manner so that it has multiple levels of reflexivity. David Magee also must be given credit for taking Martel's story in this direction, because this could have been a very, very different film. I mean, if Werner Herzog had got his hands on this, we would have got something along the lines of Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (which isn't a bad thing), but there are so many places this story could have went, both good and bad, and I think they hit the nail on the head. In regards to this interpretation, Lee has picked a terrific young actor in Suraj Sharma to play Pi. He has expressive features in his face, but without being all facial manipulation, he carries himself with an everyman quality reminiscent of a Henry Fonda. Also, given that the character has to go through so many different states of mind and physical torpor, he never crosses into overdoing things, and is a thoroughly sympathetic lead. Also in the acting department, Irrfan Khan is a weighty, strong adult Pi. Among the other aspects I'd like to praise about the film is that it's one of the most technically astute films of 2012. It's not just a case of a big-budget film winning out on account of the money (look at The Robot Movie(s)), but the fact that the crew do it properly. Rhythm and Hues' visual effects are among the best I think I've ever seen in a feature film. The realisation of Richard Parker as a character is another step forward in legitimising visual effects as an art form. In the past, we've had characters like Gollum, King Kong, Caesar, but the thing is that most of the visual effects characters have had a fair degree of anthropomorphism to them. Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger, and importantly they never forget that. However, we still understand that this tiger has a personality and certain behavioural traits to it, and it is through the craft in the visual effects that we get these. The production design and locations are stellar. The Patel family zoo, shot in Taipei Zoo, captures the atmospheric splendour that a child feels when going into a zoo. Also, the storm sequences, which I only found out in the course of my research was physically shot in a water-tank, are quite possibly the best 'action' scenes in a film from 2012. You cannot tear your gaze from what is going on, despite the sheer onslaught that poor Pi (and indeed, Richard Parker) is going through, and as I said, I found out it was shot in a water-tank. I thought it was all sound-stage, but the skill here is not just the design, but the fact that both the design and visual effects departments are working together and I can't find the crease marks, their collaboration being completely seamless. Also strong is the cinematography by Claudio Miranda. Beginning his career with David Fincher, it's great to see him branch out and what he brings to the table for Life Of Pi is a wise visual eye. All of the technical brilliance and Lee's direction would be for nought if it wasn't for the work by Miranda, who does a stellar job at shooting this film. Finally, yes, I did like the music for this film, believe it or not. Mychael Danna's score is another excellent addition to Life Of Pi's overall tapestry. It's a wonderful compendium of traditional Indian instruments, with the emphasis being placed on woodwind, Hollywood orchestral scores featuring string and brass sections, and a collection of terrific vocalists. I must say that Pi's Lullaby, performed in the Tamil language, is a beautiful piece of work among this great original score. So, as you can tell from the amount I have went on about it, Life Of Pi is one of the richest, most rewarding film experiences of 2012.

However (the big however), much as I loved Life Of Pi, there is one issue involved with the film that forces me to deny it the masterpiece status, and that is the narrative framework. David Magee's script is for the most part praiseworthy, from the standpoint of being able to adapt while remaining faithful to the spirit of the source text. The problem is that some of the things that work in literature do not necessarily work in film. A.O. Scott didn't like the narrative because of the fact that you may doubt, "in the end, you have seen anything at all." I don't share these sentiments, for me, that was part of the thematic content. My problem was that I was so gripped by Pi's story that the switching back and forth between him as a teenager and his telling the story to the writer as an adult detracted from the fluidity of the film. At just over two hours, it's a long enough movie, and what is for the most part well-paced is temporarily put into stasis, and from a storytelling standpoint, I don't think this works.

Despite my issue with the narrative framework, which is a big enough problem to be frank, I still feel that Life Of Pi is a truly great film. It has a terrific lead performance from Suraj Sharma, it's technically one of the most astute films I've seen in a while (cinematography, editing, production design and visual effects are spot on!), and the original score by Mychael Danna is a wonderful compendium. Finally, while David Magee's script is mostly solid, it is Ang Lee and the direction he takes with Yann Martel's original novel that truly makes this film. It could have been interpreted very differently and we could have gotten something like Werner Herzog's Aguirre, The Wrath Of God or this year's own The Turin Horse, but Lee manages to open up all the doors possible, making it accessible to a wider audience without overlooking the darker material of the book. It's a rare achievement to be able to have both hands in two different cookie jars and come up with gold, and Lee has done just that. Fair play to ye, my good sir!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (not withstanding boredom at a lack of work!)

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