Life of Pi
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Life of Pi

Ang Lee's cutting-edge spectacle trumps the novel's clumsy spiritualism.


Like the 2001 Booker Prize–winning bestseller from which it’s been faithfully adapted, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi opens with the promise of a story so fantastic as to literally put the fear of God into its audience. Needless to say, the movie will come no closer to converting non-believers than did Yann Martel’s spuriously preachy novel; whether on the page or in digital 3D, Life of Pi’s notions of faith and spirituality are resolutely shallow.

If Lee’s Life of Pi inspires awe it’s of a strictly secular variety, and potentially blasphemous to boot: in Richard Parker—the ferocious CGI tiger who fatefully stows away in the lifeboat of the film’s eponymous, shipwrecked protagonist—Lee’s army of visual effects artists have cribbed a page from the Good Lord’s book of tricks, conjuring a living flesh-and-blood creature through sheer force of will. Or so it would seem, such is the photorealism of Pi’s fearsome, painstakingly-rendered feline companion.

Next to the remarkably life-like Parker, Life of Pi’s chief achievement is to spin a reasonably compelling cinematic yarn from subject matter ostensibly ill-suited to the screen. Though largely confined to a single location, and robbed of suspense by its retrospective framing device, Lee punctuates Pi’s seaborne survival fable with some genuinely wondrous sights. These, indeed, are reason enough to recommend Life of Pi in spite of the source material’s strained epiphanic pretensions.