November 21, 2012 by abbyo
It could be argued that many of the most visually-oriented directors aren’t very good storytellers. Consider, for example, Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch), or Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall, Immortals, Mirror, Mirror). These are guys who know their way around composing an awesome shot (or, in Snyder’s case, how to use CGI to enhance a shot), but whose work is often found lacking in consistency, or even just basic script quality. When you’ve got so much emphasis on one area of your work, sometimes the other parts of that work can fall by the wayside.
In this regard, Ang Lee is an exception. Take one look at his resume, and it’s immediately apparent that his talents lie in filmmaking that’s both visual and dramatic. He’s given us “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “The Ice Storm,” “Brokeback Mountain” and now “Life of Pi,” a gorgeous movie that expresses its beauty equally in how it looks and in the story it tells.
Based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel, “Life of Pi” is the extraordinary story of a young man (the Pi of the title) and his survival on a lifeboat after a shipwreck, with only a Bengal tiger for company. The tiger is part of a menagerie that Pi’s zookeeping family attempts to move from India to Canada. After the ship they’re traveling on sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, only Pi and the tiger survive. What follows is a story that’s by turns exciting, touching and surprisingly spiritual.
We’ll start with the obvious draw: “Life of Pi” is a great-looking movie. Lee emphasizes natural beauty and uses color like Vincent Van Gogh illustrating a biology textbook. In the movie’s scenes on land, brightly-plumed birds populate lush trees, and buildings glow with warm yellows, pinks and oranges. Once the action hits the water, Lee manages to make seemingly endless scenes of the same set pieces (ocean, boat, raft, boy, tiger) unique, surprising, and breathtaking. There are plenty of “wow” moments, bolstered by impressive, if occasionally over-the-top, 3D.
There’s also a great story to accompany these lovely images. It’s not a pleasant one (parents, leave the kids at home), but it’s got elements of faith, grace and magical realism that will leave audiences with plenty to think about. Pi is a believer, and his faith in God in His many forms is ultimately what saves his humanity. It’s inspiring to see a character who’s been so noticeably shaped by his encounters with religion, and how it affects the way he deals with seemingly impossible situations. It’s a gentle portrayal of belief that doesn’t show up much in mainstream film (or, for that matter, any films at all).
“Life of Pi” is a movie that doesn’t compromise. Ang Lee manages to tell a story that’s a feast for the eyes and the brain, but remains accessible and easy to follow. It’s a crowd-pleaser, to be sure, but one that doesn’t pull punches. Lee has proven his versatile talents once more with a movie that offers different, distinct pleasures for each member of its audience.