Sunday, November 25, 2012

Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a movie slavishly, some might say entirely, devoted to its visuals. Entire segments of the movie are devoted to nothing but giving us beautiful sights and lavish spectacles. It contains what I think is one of the best (thus far) uses of 3D in a movie, and it uses it a way that is artistic and unique, rather than for show. It is a bit of a shame, therefore, that it drops the ball in small, but damaging, ways in the story department.

Adapted from a solid book that I, for once, have actually read, the story is devoted to a teenager, Pi (actual name Piscine, but he stopped wanting to be called that in school for obvious reasons). His parents own a zoo but are falling on hard times and are moving to Canada, planning to sell the animals in order to start a new life. On the way to Canada, the ship sinks, leaving Pi alone on a lifeboat with a fully grown Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

All of the things that are needed to make a good movie are in place. The cinematography is gorgeous, the visuals and their design unique and well put together, the CGI is some of the best of the year, the editing and score are flawless and the character of Pi and (weirdly enough) Richard Parker are well sketched and believable. So all we need is a good story to hang all these things on.

And this is where the movie drops the ball. The movie, while energetic and exciting, is paced really weirdly. The first act takes forever, which could normally be made up for in an energetic third act, but the movie also doesn’t seem to have a third act. I feel like I’m exaggerating just typing that, but it really doesn’t. The movie has a long first act, an even longer second act, gets to the end of the second act and then just sort of…cuts to the denouncement. I suppose it’s a function of the story that it be without a third act, but it’s still incredibly weird to have happen.

Aside from the wonky pacing, the movie is ludicrously unsubtle at times, to the point where I’m starting to wonder if a behind the scenes editor was worried American audiences wouldn’t get it. The movie spells out a few of it’s morals and ideas at the very end (as in literally states them) and at least one of the visuals is so on the nose that I actually rolled my eyes.

If it sounds like I’m down on the movie I’m not. It’s a legitimate experience, something that is actually breathtaking to watch when it’s in motion. But the things I like to talk about are the things that the movie fails at. But it’s still a good movie, beautiful and moving and highly unique. So while it’s not perfect, I’m going to call this one recommended. After all, where else are you going to get 2 hours of a tiger on a boat with an Indian Kid?

Elessar is a 22 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wishes movies would stop demonizing hyenas; I fucking love hyenas.


  1. I will comment. I quite agree that it is visually beautiful. It was my first experience of 3-D and i think it was the perfect introduction. BUT i also agree that the visuals got in the way of the story. I was also with you in feeling that they were "oddly expositional" at the end. And having talked to other reasonably intelligent people who saw (and loved) it, the idea that American audiences need or want to have some things spelled out for them is not far off the mark. Some reviewers felt that it's rather bald-faced religiosity was off-putting, and ended up cheapening that aspect of the story. But i think i'd have to see it again to free myself from the seduction of the visuals.

    1. I agree, to a point, that American audiences need stuff spelled out for them, so let me say this clearly: Fuck that.

      All of my favorite movies of the year, from Cloud Atlas, to Moonrise Kingdom to Cosmopolis to even The Cabin in the Woods, never feel the need to spell out their point. Do they put it very clearly in their symbolism? Sure. Do they actually say it? No. At no point in Moonrise Kingdom does a character ever say "Well sometimes you gotta change your life and sometimes you gotta be happy with what you got." Because that would be silly.

      And speaking as someone who is...let's say not religious, I agree that the bald faced religiosity is a little annoying at times (didn't come up in the review, as it's an opinion). Religiosity doesn't need to be a problem (Saved! Ben Hur, Prince of Egypt etc.) but this one seems to conclude "Believe in God...because that's more fun." And that's dumb.

    2. Maybe "fun" is not quite what the author or the director had in mind, precisely. Martel(Pi) in the book found agnostics more annoying that atheists, as he felt fence-sitters are actually intellectually dishonest. I am thinking the point is one i have made from time to time with regard to the distinction between facts and truth. A fictional account of an event often has more to tell us than a factual account, i.e., is more "true", never mind that "facts" often depend on perspective, too.