Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Life of Pi" is all style, no substance

An epic once deemed unfilmable, Life of Pi has now hit the big screen. It is directed by visionary director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and features some beautiful CGI. Yann Martel's novel has a long history. It was a surprise hit about a tiger and an Indian boy stranded at sea that climbed the best sellers charts and won tons of book awards. Several directors including M. Night Shyamalan and Alfonso Cuaron tried and failed to adapt the novel. Finally, Ang Lee got around to making it. The film has been acclaimed widely and is one of the leading contenders for best picture. And for me, it is a momentous disappointment.

Life of Pi tells the life story of Piscine Patel, a man who grows up in Pondicherry, a place in French India. His father owns and operates a zoo and he is around several animals his whole life. He also takes a liking to several religions, embracing Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. The zoo goes bankrupt eventually and his family is forced to move to Canada. All of that takes about forty minutes in the movie but it feels like an hour. Finally, there is a shipwreck and Pi ends up on a lifeboat with a tiger, orangutan, zebra and wild dog.

Life of Pi has some of the most impressive visuals ever put on film. Everything in the film looks like a beautiful painting or an exquisite work of art. The ocean, the animals, the swimming pools all look fantastic. But it doesn't matter. Visuals cannot save a film and Life of Pi is not redeemed by its visuals.

First off, Life of Pi is slow. It has nothing of interest for the whole movie. It takes forever to get into the story and once the shipwreck happens, it goes back to doing nothing. I think that there was no way to make it interesting. You know how the film is going to end and the film is not interesting enough to justify sitting through the entire thing. Secondly, it is very, very long. Or at least it feels like it is. Life of Pi is only 2hrs, 5 mins. But I felt like I was in that theater for about 4 hours. I checked my watch more times than I can count and I cannot remember a time that I was ever that bored during a film. Actually, it has never happened before.

Life of Pi is a film full of religion and philosophical theory. And the theory is that Pi miraculously survived his ordeal because of his passionate love of God and that God helped him specifically. And I find that movies about those kinds of things are very interesting but this film just feels like it has nothing under the surface. 2001: A Space Odyssey is a film that I love and it is similar to Life of Pi in many ways. But the difference between Life of Pi and 2001 is that everything in Life of Pi is spelled out piece by piece. You understand everything. I have watched 2001 around four times and I still don't understand everything. And there is just something special about it that makes it standout despite the slow pacing.

Life of Pi has nothing of interest for me. This is just my preference. Judging by the A- cinemascore that it received, it seems like a lot of people do like it. But it is just not my type. I think that it has moments of interest (like some of the religious philosophy) but I think that this was meant to be a book and stay a book. Some people are going to moved to tears and some people are going to hate it. I fall into the second category.

THE FINAL GRADE:  D                                             (4.4/10)

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