It has been a while since I read the Life of Pi. I try hard not to be a book snob and forgive film makers as they adapt a beloved and brilliant novel to the screen. I will not forgive film adaptations that don't even try to follow the book. Why bother adapting a book if you're not even going to try and tell its story? I am for example still waiting for someone to actually do an adaptation of Planet of the Apes. I have forgiven Peter Jackson for leaving out Tom Bombadil in Lord of the Rings and for leaving out actual killing of the Saruman the White (while he did do a killing in the extended cut but still not right.) So I must also forgive the cutting down of a few plot points in the movie version of Life of Pi. Since I have distance from the book, that may make it easier too.
Life of Pi is a movie based on a book by Yann Martel and it is a remarkable book and a visually stunning movie. The premise is a simple one: Pi Patel, played by Suraj Sharma, is the sole human survivor of a shipwreck. Pi and his family are traveling from India to Canada transporting their zoo. One night a massive storm swamps the ship and it sinks. Pi ends up alone on a lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, and a Bengal tiger, named Richard Parker. Needless to say Richard Parker makes quick work of the zebra and orangutan, although much faster in the movie than in the book.
The tiger is a stunning visual effect. He is CGI for the most part. At no point was actor and tiger ever together on the boat. Richard Parker was created by using four different tigers for reference and visual mapping. The four tigers, used primarily for single shot scenes like when Richard Parker is swimming, made for a high standard for the CGI version that would appear on the boat with Pi.
So Pi and Richard Parker set off on a remarkable journey lasting, according to the book, 227 days as a castaway with a Bengal tiger in a twenty foot lifeboat. Pi learns to live at sea and eventually masters the tiger. It is an astounding story that draws us in and gives us hope bonding us to nature and God as Pi feels he too is bonded. There are scenes from the book that are not there, but like the cutting of Tom Bombadil, I understand the need. Although one particular scene in the book in which Pi is about to be killed and cannibalized by another castaway who is killed by Richard Parker before he can act, I did miss. I always thought of this scene in the book, one of the more unbelievable ones, as showing the difference between the tiger which kills to survive and man that will not only kill to survive, but because he can. Man is the moral beast in the book. Nature does what is needed, only man can reason beyond this. It gives us some insight just as learning that Pi is a Hindu-Muslim-Catholic believer gives us insight into the nature of the man who tells us the story of his survival as a boy. Still this scene would be hard to work into the movie and even harder to explain.
Others have remarked that there is a few awkward spots in the movie. Oddly those did not bother me because I felt those same pacing moments in the book at the same moments in the film. To me it was actually a remarkable sign of adaptation. The film must also telescope time. If the production pushed the feel of the 227 days at sea that Pi lives through in the 100 or so chapters of the book, it would have indeed suffered from pacing issues.
The movie is visual and for the most part easy to watch and like the book draws you into Pi's tale, almost fable, like stories of having survived as the sole survivor. The movie, obviously filmed to take advantage of 3-D effects, is still stunning to see in the 2-D format. The acting is well done and the story remains basically true to the novel. The only thing that was, I thought, underplayed a bit too much was the end of the story. I don't want to spoil it for you, but in the book it is one that is so carefully crafted, it catches us a bit off guard but does not cheat having laid the ground work throughout the book. I think it could have been stronger in the film so it would better balance with Richard Parker walking into the jungle.
We must sometimes forgive filmmakers for failing to include every detail or plot point from a book. Let's face it, movies have a limited time in which to tell the story. I will, however, never understand those who decide with why bother with making the story, we will just use the title...I'm looking at you Tim Burton and your adaptations of Planet of the Apes and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. As for Ang Lee's direction of David Magee's adaptation, it is a good one, well worth the look.