REVIEW: Life of Pi

2 12 2012 I may not have read “Life of Pi,” I certainly know plenty of people who did in high school.  Key words in that sentence: high school.  Yann Martel’s book is meant for thinkers of a certain age, not eyes of a certain age.  The material may be appropriate for people below a PG-13 audience, but that doesn’t mean they will appreciate it.

I admire Ang Lee’s  faith in the importance and resonance of the “Life of Pi” narrative that he felt compelled to shift its impact downwards and outwards, making adjustments to make it play well to younger and less intellectual audiences.  And indeed, it plays well as an adventure film, where “Cast Away” meets “Slumdog Millionaire” plus a tiger, and its brilliantly shot as such by Claudio Miranda (the brilliant lenser of “Benjamin Button“).  Miraculously, the two hours fly by even with very little happening to drive the story forward.  It’s a rewarding experience overall.

But what nagged at me was that Lee was aiming for something more with “Life of Pi.”  Sure, his movie was sold as one about a boy and a tiger stranded on a lifeboat, but Lee’s intended film was one about some very deep existential questions.  He didn’t want audiences to leave marveling over the special effects sequences; he wanted people to leave after having a mystical experience mulling over questions of spirituality.

These questions are raised early on in the movie, and I strapped myself in to really ponder them.  Yet when I discarded my 3D glasses in the recycling bin on my way out of the theater like any ecologically friendly moviegoer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Lee explored them with insufficient depth.  By expanding the audience, he shrunk the real story of “Life of Pi” – its spiritual dimension.

The film’s rather juvenile and kid-friendly presentation seeps into the very fabric of the storytelling.  (All those corny editing techniques ripped out of bad ’80s TV movies can’t help but affect every aspect of a movie.)  The core ideas of “Life of Pi” get diluted, passed over in favor of a little more cinematic grandeur.  Don’t get me wrong, Lee’s grand canvas for the movie is exciting and stunning.  But I can get that in any movie; few dare to delve into the psyche like he meagerly attempted to do.  I want more of that because I don’t think the next few $100 million budgeted spectacles will even consider touching anything spiritual.

Although maybe there’s a silver lining here.  People have suggested I do something for five years or so now, and I have never felt inspired to do it.  Ang Lee may have given me the biggest push yet towards accomplishing that thing: reading Yann Martel’s “Life of Pi.”  Because perhaps there, my mind will be as sate reading as my eyes were watching.  B-2stars



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