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Road to the Oscars 2012: The Life of Pi

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief


I usually run my Road to the Oscars series on my blog, but since my blog has moved towards classic film, I figured the series would be orphaned.  Thankfully, I’ve decided to return to CC2K with a vengeance over the next several weeks, with reviews of all nine Best Picture nominees.  What film to start with though?  Honestly, I feel there are some movies that just don’t have a shot of winning the award, and I figured I’d start with the least likely first.  No offense to director Ang Lee, but I doubt Life of Pi will see much action come Oscar night.  The film is a visual delight, but overall the plot feels far too heavy-handed in a year where subtlety seems to have died entirely.  The visuals make this worth a look, but I feel those who haven’t read/didn’t love the book will be bored to tears.

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma) is a young boy traveling with his family and their circus.  When the boat carrying the family sinks, Pi is left in a raft with a tiger named Richard Parker.  As the two struggle for survival, an unlikely friendship and respect forms.

The only awards I can see Life of Pi going home with our in the visual effects.  What Lee and crew have done is nothing short of breathtaking; and I can’t argue against that.  An entire ocean is rendered in exquisite beauty, particularly a scene with a bed of jellyfish, and a jumping humpback whale.  It’s worth going to see in the IMAX or 3D format because the individual beads of water can be discerned, and everything appears to be painted onto the screen.  

Sadly for an over two-hour movie, I remember very little.  My mother is a devout fan of the book, and felt that a lot of the family aspects were condensed in favor of a religious angle.  I have noticed that in a lot of the movies contending for awards this year, messages were not able to be delivered without all the force of a sledgehammer.  Life of Pi is no exception because the religious plot is the driving narrative of the story.  Pi is a young man interested in every religion to the chagrin of his father (Adil Hussain).  We see a bit of familial disconnect between Pi’s father and brother who don’t see his interest in religion, and his compassionate mother (Tabu) who believes it’s sweet.  You get a few minutes of this before being thrust into the shipwreck.  It’s hard to connect to Pi as a person, because the movie moves so quickly into abandoning him.  The interactions with him and Richard Parker are good, but the repetitious sequences of talk, to an interaction with the tiger, into more talk, can tire out the audience.  If the narrative gets lost, Lee is too content to mention how it ties back into Pi’s religious interests.  Ultimately, the plot of Life of Pi is like eating McDonalds.  It’s good for a few minutes, but once it gets cold you’re no longer interested.  

I did like the ending, which tries to throw in a twist that only works if you don’t know the book at all, and the acting is good.  The visuals are worth a look, but if you get distracted easily I recommend waiting for DVD.  Again, I doubt this will score outside of the visual effects, and deservedly so.  Ang Lee has created better films, in my opinion.