Life of Pi is not the best movie I’ve seen in theaters this year, but watching it might be the best movie-going experience I’ve had this year in a theater. In years to come Life of Pi is going to be remembered as one of the most aesthetically beautiful films of this generation of filmmaking, and it’s possible that it might go down in history as one of the two or three most beautifully photographed movies of all time. Director Ang Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda have also made me a believer in something that I didn’t expect: 3D.
For the first time in my life, I have walked away from a film thinking: “It would be an entirely different film in 2D, and I’m not sure if I would like it.” For the first time I have seen a film so flawlessly crafted in its use of 3D, that I can’t imagine seeing the film without it.
By now I’m sure you’ve seen the trailers, or read the book, and know the setup: young Pi Patel finds himself trapped on a boat with a tiger in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after an cargo ship sinks. For the most part Pi and the Tiger (named “Richard Parker”) give each other their distance. Pi staying on his raft which is fashioned out of pieces of the boat, and Richard Parker staying on the boat itself, usually under the tarp.
The sinking of the ship is one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen in a movie. It put my heart in my throat, and I was gripping the armrests of my seat with a death grip.
But the truly interesting moments of the film deal with the two meeting head on — especially those moments when Pi attempts to tame the beast, and, in certain aspects of their co-habitation, even seems to succeed. One episode that particularly stands out in my mind involves Richard Parker jumping into the ocean after a fish and not being able to climb back into the boat. Pi, for whatever reason, feels that he needs the beast and is determined to get him back into the boat and keep him from drowning.
But how do you get a large tiger into a boat? Not to mention a large tiger that has already shown itself to be less than friendly?
As I watched Pi gain control (and lose control) of his situation, and watched him come to terms with his “guest”, I was surprised by how involved I became in the actions on screen. In a strange way I did not feel as though I were watching the film, but I felt as if I were taking part in it. Life of Pi is ultimately a sensory experience which carefully uses the things we see and hear to draw us in and make us participants in Pi’s journey.
This brings me to the use of 3D.
The effect is not as overly exaggerated as it in some other films. Instead it gives the film a natural depth which only enhances our involvement in the characters. Ang Lee also uses it to great creative effect in scene transitions, where objects in the foreground and background of a shot will fade away, leaving the objects in the midground plane floating in space inside of the new shot. It’s near impossible to properly describe, I suppose, but it was breathtaking the first time I saw it.
There are moments where the rays of the sun seen to reach out of the screen and fall over us. It’s marvelous.
Thematically the film brings up spiritual questions, such as why do we believe in God when logic seems to tell us that we should do otherwise? Pi’s relationship with God is front-and-center in the film, so do be aware of that if you choose to see the film.
At the showing I went to there were parents with their kids in the audience, and all of them seemed to enjoy the film quite a bit — laughing when the film was funny, getting quiet during the still moments — and everyone that I saw (adults included) seemed to leave the theater with a big smile on their face.
But as a warning for those of you who are squeemish: Life of Pi features some startling violence as dished out by the animals in the film. But that’s life — animals kill other animals, it’s how they eat, and the animals were (mostly) computer generated (although you can’t really tell by watching). But it’s still something to be aware of.
As I said at the beginning: Life of Pi is not my favorite film from 2012, but it might be the best overall experience. And these days it’s rare to find a real experience playing in the theaters.
So if you’re looking for something exciting, thought provoking, and beautiful to look at, then why look anywhere else? Very highly recommended.
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