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Life of Pi

LIFE OF PI is the story of an Indian guy (Irrfan Khan) who for some reason has a white author guy (Rafe Spall) he doesn’t know come over to his house to interview him about his life. It’s kind of unclear what the situation is here, but apparently the writer guy is not in the book the movie is based on, so I guess this is a dramatization of what the making of the book would’ve been like if it was a true story that a a real guy told to the author instead of something that he made up and wrote using his imagination and talents. I don’t get it, but it kind of reminds me of BIG FISH. Sophomore year imagination class. That’s at least a huge step forward for screenwriter David Magee, considering he wrote FINDING NEVERLAND.

[UPDATE: Okay, never mind, I’m told the writer is in the book. It would be cooler if in the book it was Ang Lee that comes over to his house.]

At first this guy talks about his childhood and his name (Pi for short), and the music tells us this is some adorable AMELIE type shit going down, and I’m not sure how long I’d be willing to stick with it. Luckily he soon goes into a story about his family getting shipwrecked while transporting zoo animals to Canada (you know how that can be) and that’s what most of the movie is about. Young Pi (now played by rookie actor Suraj Sharma) ends up on a lifeboat with some animals, most notably a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Now, I don’t know how aware of this you guys are, but the Walt Disney company, in addition to American cultural behemoths like STAR WARS, Pixar, The Muppets, Marvel Comics, ESPN and The Wuzzles also owns the hugely popular BUDDIES franchise. It started with the film AIR BUD in 1997, which of course is the sports drama that took advantage of the real life loophole that there ain’t no rule says a dog can’t play basketball. In a continually evolving series of DTV sequels the Air Bud character went on to master American football, American soccer, baseball and volleyball before fathering a pack of talking puppies called Air Buddies, who have sorely disappointed him by not following in his athletic pawsteps, but have still had their own adventures including SPACE BUDDIES, SPOOKY BUDDIES, TREASURE BUDDIES, SANTA PAWS 2: THE SANTA PUPS, etc. There’s a total of 13 films as of this writing and one of them, SNOW BUDDIES, I believe crosses over with the Cuba Gooding Jr. picture SNOW DOGS, because it had a fantasy sequence where his sled dogs could talk.

What I am suggesting to you my friends is that Disney should buy this LIFE OF PI property so that we can see Richard Parker’s offspring in SPOOKY BUDDIES 2: PARATIGER CUBTIVITY or perhaps some sort of MASTER AND COMMANDER parody where the tiger is a sailor, because of boats and everything. I might be getting a little off track here. Only time will tell. But just in case I will write more stuff about LIFE OF PI.

On a technical level the movie is undeniable. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t win the visual FX Oscar. The CGI animals (which may sometimes be real, or puppets, I have no idea) are about as real as they’ve done so far, and they just act like animals, no shuckin and jivin for human sensibilities. During the movie I never thought about the logistics of one actor on a boat pretending to be chased by an invisible tiger, but it must’ve been hard to film. And it must’ve been hard to script too, keeping this simple situation interesting, making sure there’s a feeling of momentum even though the character’s literally adrift at sea. He finds different survival gear stashed on the boat, comes up with different plans and schemes to stay safe. Sometimes a shark swims by.

This is yet more proof that Ang Lee can make any god damn movie he pleases and you might as well just shut up and get out of the way you assholes. Other people had a hell of a time making this book into a movie. I know M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all wasted a bunch of their life trying to do it. To be fair, the studio might’ve had cold feet because SNAKES ON A PLANE didn’t do that well. Still, they all shoulda known that the director of HULK and RACCOON HAMLET was the only one that could pull it off. I wonder if he wore the mo-cap suit and created the movements for all the animals like he did for the Hulk. I can see him crawling around that boat growling and shit. I bet he did.

It was shot in 3D and is getting some HUGO type hype as one of the good 3Ds. I don’t know. I thought a couple parts looked great, but then I would forget it was 3D for long stretches. (There’s an ad where James Cameron points that out as being how you know it’s good 3D, which is of course a ridiculous and embarrassing thing for somebody to say and have quoted on an ad. I only forgive him because ALIENS, T2, etc.) I wasn’t sure if the weakness was in the movie or because of the 3D system. This place used Dolby 3D, battery powered goggles with regular screen, all the other Seattle theaters I’ve been to use Real D, plastic glasses with silver screen.

But some parts look great and there are some harrowing scenes such as the shipwreck and some gorgeous, stylized landscapes, sometimes some magical painterly views of the water or reflections on said water or whatever.

The best 3D scene is actually the one they showed before PROMETHEUS with the flying fish. I noticed that the aspect ratio changed to a wider screen and when the fish were flying out of the screen their image would cross over the letterboxed area. Interesting technique.

I loved that scene out of context. Some people said they didn’t understand it as an advertisement, because why would you draw somebody in with a really intriguing and original scene when you could instead just show clips explaining everything that happens in the movie and have that transformers distorted electronic BONG! BONG! sound to show how dramatic it is. And then at the end Pi is looking up to the sky and it’s the theme from DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY.

I disagreed with that so I was almost disappointed when I started seeing the TV ads where they explain that his family owns a zoo and there’s a shipwreck and etc. I kinda preferred it when it was some mysterious parable without a grounding in logic. And all the problems I have with the movie – which are not major, really – have to do with that grounding in logic. Everything about the creamy center of the movie, about a dude and some animals on a boat, works for me. But I realize this is based on a book and it wouldn’t really be fair to hack off the beginning and end and main theme of the book. But I might’ve liked it better that way.

This is a movie that is about something and will be meaningful to some people. It has a clever way of getting the idea across which I thought was teetering on blowing it HIGH TENSION style but I thought managed to just barely stay on its feet. Still it comes across as kind of a pandering new agey type of spirituality. This Pi is a guy who grows up trying out different religions at the same time and in the end it seems to be saying that it’s best to believe the story that is most meaningful and right to you whether or not it’s literally true. It’s very convenient because it sort of applies to anybody’s religious beliefs but also I think it’s a good idea, it’s saying forget about sticking to the confines of one ancient tradition, why not learn from everyone and take what wisdom you can from wherever you can. It’s the same idea as Bruce Lee, or Ghost Dog, or mixed martial arts, or Wu-Tang. So I agree with it.

But still, the way it comes across, it’s a little on the corny side. Very pleasing to the audience I watched it with, who laughed at the cuteness of any god damn animal that ever appeared on screen, as well as at a scene I thought was very powerful where Pi, a life long vegetarian, has to kill a fish to survive, and he apologizes to it and thanks Vishnu. And they laughed like it was cute. Ha ha, what if somebody really had to violate their deeply held beliefs? It’s so cute! Kinda condescending in my opinion.

But I’m not really complaining, I didn’t have a big problem with it, I’m just saying that what I liked about the movie was not so much the substance of it, it was really just the main story of this young guy trapped on a life boat with some animals. It takes this simple situation and turns it into a whole story full of tension and humor and occasional beauty and what not, some horror, some triumph, etc.

The wrap-up sort of gives you direction on how to interpret the meaning of the whole thing, but I kinda liked it better before that when it seemed to be not as specifically about religious belief but just about people getting along despite their differences. Richard Parker is a fucking tiger, he’s not gonna completely give up on eating Pi, but Pi doesn’t spear him and in fact goes out of his way to rescue the tiger and is sad when he separates from him. I like thinking this is about finding solutions to difficult problems, co-existing even with people who mean you harm. To me it’s about how dangerous and impossible the world can be but how worth it it is to put in the effort.

But then it’s about something else. Oh well. That’s okay. I just like the middle part the best. That’s the story I pick.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 2:23 am and is filed under Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Life of Pi”

  1. I’m with Vern. The survival story is great enough without bookends.

    The 3D is really good too. Dolby 3D sucks, I always have problems with it. The 3D I saw was always dimensional and lots of stuff comes out of the screen as well.

  2. Seeing this tomorrow, hopefully. The book is okay, a little overrated maybe, or maybe just not my cup of tea unless I apply this weird self serving subjective p-o-v interpretation whereby Pi’s story, the truth & lies of his ridiculous survival testimony, can be compared to the mystery of, say, Tim O’Brien’s IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS.

    Basically, (possible SPOILER!) I think ITLOTW’s crazy asshole husband boiled, chopped up, and ate his wife in that awesome book, even though the evidence is not as strong for that interpretation as some others.

    So, because I might be psychotic & deranged, I’m inclined to think that, in THE LIFE OF PI, even though we don’t see it happen, Pi killed his family, or whoever the short-lived survivors were after the accident, and blamed it somehow on the tiger. Or maybe Pi is the tiger. Something like that, not sure. Symbols and dreams and starvation-induced hallucinations and ambiguous literature and all that — opens stories up to wild interpretations. You know how it is.

    I’m sure Ang Lee will put my mind at ease soon with this film version. And then he can get to work storyboarding whatever the fuck movie he wants about whatever topic in whatever milieu. I’m guessing it’ll be about Mongolian tuxedo seamstresses who move to Kinshasa to become marriage counselors. Or maybe it’ll be MARSUPERMAN.

  3. [harrumph!] I dunno. Sounds like an abstract art movie mingled with tone poetry, or something vaguely similar. A more linear approach would be preferable. I can almost feel my brain turning to slo-motion cotton candy at the mere idea of seeing this movie. Hence, I will not.

    Funny that you should mention Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, Vern. Jason Scott Lee played Mowgli shortly after playing Lee in Dragon, and that’s *almost* what Life Of Pi sounds like: The Jungle Book On A Boat.

    Added to which, any movie that has religion or the upholding of religious beliefs at its core just made my pay-no-mind list. As far as I’m concerned, religion… ANY religion… is for weak, needy, or confused people. It only takes a modicum of common sense to be able to differentiate between right & wrong, good & evil, Curly & Shemp, etc., and then apply whatever works best for you into your own personal ethos.

    Also, that tiger would’ve ripped Pi to shreds in a very short space of time. We’re not talkin’ Calvin and Hobbes here.

  4. Saw it last Friday, loved it.

    I think you musta gotten screwed with that Dolby 3D business because in realD it was easily the best 3D movie I’ve seen since Avatar. I usually forget that movies are 3D when I watch them (which I’m gonna have to disagree with Mr Cameron, it is NOT a sign of good 3D, it just makes me think I wasted my money), but this one had such convincing depth the whole time that it totally added to the experience.

    I think what helped sell it was the same thing as Piranha 3D (even though that one was a post convert), using the plane of the water’s surface gives your eye an automatic reference so the depth is easier to see.

  5. Also, I’m with you Amazing Larry on the whole religion thing, but like Passion of the Christ before it, this is just such a well made movie that I can go along with what it’s trying to say, regardless of whether I apply it in my own real life. That’s sorta the beauty of movies really, you can step out of the real world and just let the movie take you where it will for a couple of hours, even if that means taking you out of your own mind set and putting you into another.

  6. ahhhhh haiiiiiiiiir Pi!

  7. I would just like to say that even if Irrfan Khan isn’t used to his maximum potential here the guy is simply a phenomenal, magnetic actor and I hope this high-profile turn will allow him to land some bigger parts in American movies (I almost ripped my hair out when he appears in DARJEELING LIMITED for like two minutes essentially as a silent extra. It’s like casting Robert DeNiro in your movie as “terrified passenger #2.”) He’s done endless Bollywood films where he’s always good, but Bollywood can be something of an acquired taste so for an English language example see his role in Mira Nair’s excellent THE NAMESAKE. He’s terrific, the absolute heart of a overall very good movie.

    There aren’t tons of parts for Indian actors who don’t want to play Arab terrorists (even Kal Penn did one!) but the guy is so good I’m hoping more roles will open up for him. Not too many that he gets expensive, though, because I still want to cast him as Seagal’s doomed partner in my Steven Seagal Yeti epic.

  8. I honestly thought you were kidding about the Buddies movies. I seriously had to look that shit up.

  9. Oh, and one of the Air Bud films has the subtitle, Seventh Inning Fetch. I just want to put that out there.

  10. So this isn’t a Pixar movie about mathematical constants that come to life, centering on one that goes on a journey to learn there’s more to life than just helping determine the area of a circle?

  11. I read the book a few years ago (recommended by my mother I think; it’s that sort of book) and had a similar reaction to the ending. Mostly works but not quite as profound as it seems to think. Plus I hate that “everyone gets to believe what they want, whether or not it’s true” bullshit. Still interested in seeing the movie when it comes out here because Ang Lee motherfuckers.

  12. Texan from France

    November 27th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    What’s interesting to me about “reversals” in stories like this is that while they can pack a punch when we get to them, they are rendered meaningless over time. We’re human and invariably, we’ll remember what we experienced the most. Two pages cannot really pull the rug out from under a 200 page journey. In the long run, only Richard Parker can survives.

  13. Poor ol’ HIGH TENSION/SWITCHBLADE ROMANCE. Once again attacked for being 90% good but 10%… hmm… odd. I’ll forgo logic at the end if a movie deserves it. A lot of people do the same thing with MARTYRS. Let’s remember the good times.
    As for LIFE OF PI? Patronising, yes. Oscar-bait… of course. Nothing like cute bullshit to capture the attention of voters.

  14. I’m amused to see Warrant’s Cherry Pie in your list of Amazon recommendations for this one, Vern. Kind of makes me want to get a chorus going:

    He’s! My! LIFE OF PI!
    School of fish jumps your boat
    Ten miles wide
    Looks so good with 3D in your eye
    Ang! Lee’s! PI! Yi-yi-eee-yi.

  15. Also leading a LIFE OF PIE will make you CLOUD FATLAS.

  16. Texan, you summed up my feelings on LOST perfectly. Really? Because you didn’t like the last episode, all six years are now worthless? But then I liked the finale too, I just knew all along it wouldn’t matter.

  17. I read the book a few years ago and understood it as (SPOILERS)

    Really – SPOILERS

    Richard Parker is not a real tiger, he is Pi’s survival instinct, which causes him to kill the others on the boat in order to survive. When he reaches safety, Richard Parker ‘runs off’ as he is no longer needed for survival. Pi offers the truth to the insurance guys as an alternative to the more palatable fantasy.

    The trailer looked like it was not selling this part.

  18. WARNING: MORE SPOILERS FROM THE BOOK!

    The Limey, I love your take on it. I hadn’t heard it. I took it literally and enjoy thinking about how the cook was eaten by the island. His teeth are hanging in a tree somewhere in that version and that suited me. You put more thought into it. Good engagement.

    It was the cook from the boat, right? I’m not quite certain anymore and that’s what I mean. I loved the surprise ending when I read it but not nearly as much as my journey with the tiger and it’s the tiger who remains in my memory.

    What I also remember clearly is the doctor’s letter which closes the novel. I found the last few sentences moving.

  19. nabroleon dynamite

    November 29th, 2012 at 11:05 am

    @Amazing Larry. Since you’re up front about your atheism, I thought I’d share a link to a Hip-Hop song I did with MC Brooks & Tombstone Da Deadman.

    They are both big names in the Atheist hip-hop movement along with Greydon Square and Baba Binkman who did the ‘Rap Guide To Evolution’ among other shit.

    I never met any of these guys in person. It was a total internet networking thing for me, so I’m kinda proud of my efforts to make this happen. (even though it’s a mixtape feature)

    Yeah, I have no big interest in a ‘Pick your own reality’ movie either. I’ll rent it at some point though.

    But if you like atheist hip-hop, here you go…

    I spit 2nd by the way. (the ‘fuck a bible- carry Trojans’ line, ect…)

    http://mcbrooks.bandcamp.com/track/arc-2012-f-sk9-strick-9-c-gats-tombstone-da-deadman-gripp-and-adekwit

  20. The “writer guy” is totally in the book the movie is based on. Exact same framing device.

  21. I had to share, this is just awesome.

    A theatre in Paris is showing The Life of Pi this way:

    http://i.imgur.com/BRY3Z.jpg

    I think this concept has legs. Just imagine how they could show certain horror movies or action movies.

  22. Remember when they showed BURIED to four contest winner locked in coffins?

  23. Saw this last night, and while I enjoyed the movie and the overall story, the message at the end is exactly the kind of horseshit I hate. It basically argues that emotional truth (i.e. was FEELS true) should trump reason and fact. Which, I have to say, is pretty much exactly the opposite of what I believe.

  24. CJ Holden – is it true this movie in Germany is called SHIPWRECK WITH TIGER?

  25. Only as its subtitle. But the novel was sold under that name.

  26. Friend of mine, colleague actually, pointed out that LIFE OF PI was basically TIGER ON A RAFT a la SNAKES ON A PLANE. Makes me love it even more.

  27. I’m actually working on a job right now that’s shot by Claudio Miranda, the Oscar-winning DP of this movie.

    The job? A Weight Watchers commercial.

    It’s a glamorous business, folks.

  28. “Life of Pi: Tiger on a Raft: Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans”

    Mr. M – is there catering?

  29. Of course. You’re not getting a commercial shot unless you feed your crew. Try and skip lunch and they will walk, no questions asked. There are unions involved.

    Oh, I see what you’re getting at. No, none of the food was from Weight Watchers themselves. You’ll have a mutiny on your hands if you try to serve that low-cal shit to a bunch of surly grips. You get a breakfast truck in the morning, buffet-style lunch, and endless craft service in between. With all this free food around, being on a set is murder on a diet.

    For the record, I had the salmon. The duck looked a little overdone.

  30. I agree with you about the end but I quite like the beginning. I thought it would be just some whimsical fantasy about the boat thing but really enjoyed learning about his childhood and family. I couldn’t help but compare parts of it to Cast Away, including the end when he parts with the tiger and that’s what made him sob. I wanted the movie to end there. I believed the story that was presented to me and felt that when Pi was telling the “real” story in the hospital that he knew it was a lie (not sure if this was the actor’s performance or the writing). It felt false to me and therefore didn’t move me the way the rest of the film did.

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