Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Life of Pi

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. I am just sharing my opinions and perspective. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 1-5. 1, of course, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being good and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! Or we can have some pie.

Life of Pi – 5 out of 5

Alright, it’s going to take every ounce of my strength to not make a joke about the mathematical constant or a joke about how the life of a pie doesn’t last long (especially in the room of baked good lovers or basically every person who's every lived!) but I think I can make it…

Hobbes is that you?

Life of Pi tells the incredible story of Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma); a young man who became the sole survivor of a shipwreck. An adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) retells his story to a young writer (Rafe Spall) and how he grew up on his family’s zoo and took a great interest in religion—despite his father being a clear atheist and hoping he would believe what he believes. Pi begins to become a follower of all religions when their family hits financial hard-times and is forced to sell the zoo. They decide to relocate to Canada on a large cargo ship and they load the animals in the cargo bay and set sail. During a stormy night, the boat sinks and Pi is the only one who gets to a lifeboat…where he shockingly discovers he’s not on it alone but sharing it with the Bengal tiger from the zoo that’s named Richard Parker. Pi is forced to deal with the death of his family and attempt to survive alone at sea with a hungry wild cat. Eventually, Richard Parker and Pi form an uneasy relationship as they spend their days at sea and fight to combat the growing number of problems; problems including finding fresh water and food, a mysterious and dangerous island (a not-Lost related island) and trying to hold on to hope.

And at one point he becomes trapped in space.

I fully expected to not enjoy Life of Pi for reasons stemming from the director behind the camera and the trailer made the film look like a story that would either become too preachy about “how awesome God is” or it would just be boring. I never read the book the film is based on so the only real baseline I had going in for it was the fact it was directed by the guy who choked and murdered my favorite comic character; the Hulk. I was pleasantly surprised to find I really enjoyed the movie. The story is powerful and emotional, the visuals are breathtaking and the acting is awesome!

The writer (shown here) would end up taking some liberties with Pi's
story and came up with 50 Shades of Grey.

Ang Lee really created an emotional powerful story of courage and an uneasy camaraderie. The relationship between Pi and Richard Parker really kept the movie going and, when you consider it, that’s no easy task when you factor in that the only lines uttered by one of these two in the boat consists of roars and snarls. Despite the fact that Ang Lee nearly destroyed all his credibility with Hulk (amazing considering that he directed the film so early in his career), he showed he was able to meld together some of the tones and spectacle of his past films to really make the story in this one come to life.

Even tigers were upset with Ang Lee's treatment of the Hulk.

The fantastic nature of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon can be seen in the larger-than-life story of survival as Pi not only must deal with Richard Parker but eventually finds a mysterious island that has a promise of salvation but turns out to be a dangerous and deadly carnivorous oasis in the middle of the ocean. Then you have the human emotion (even seen in Richard Parker) aspect that played such an important role in Brokeback Mountain coming into play as Pi must deal with the death of his loved ones, holding onto hope for survival and come to terms with his relationship with a freaking tiger. Ang Lee’s past works showed he was able to blend these elements together to make a film that is both magical and bleeding whimsy and heartwarming and emotional at the same time. Amazing when you remember how painfully bad Hulk was (I will never forgive you for that, Lee).

"Fuck yo raft, Pi!"

I'm sure he added a pithy line like, "Eat this," or
"Get the point?"
 While the acting from the life action cast (including both young and old Pi) they weren’t nearly as breathtaking as the CGI tiger. While a real tiger was utilized only a small number of times in production the majority of the time a computer generated animal was used. When I saw clips on the ‘net or in the trailer I originally thought the tiger looked pretty unrealistic but after sitting through the entire film I have to say that tiger looked freakin’ real! The movements, the breathing, the wag of its tail—all of it look extremely realistic to the point you forget that actor Suraj Sharma is sharing a lifeboat with nothing and having scenes against a green screen and a single ping pong ball or whatever the hell they use to signify the CG character and you start to quickly believe there is a man-eating jungle cat on that life raft with him. This is also a testament to Sharma’s acting as he very successfully makes it look like he is in a battle of wits and strength with an animal that isn’t actually there.

The M. Night Shyamalan twist at the end...Pi was the tiger all along.

The highly detailed animation of Richard Parker not only made a film where you’re not saying “that tiger looks fake and stupid and now I’m mad at everyone for it” but it ended up making Richard Parker a strong character and more than just a challenge for Pi to overcome.  Richard Parker ended up becoming more than just an animal but was, himself, a character as much as Pi was. But seriously, that tiger really looked real…and I should know; I’m a tiger expert. I’ve seen them at the zoo and, as far as internet credibility is concerned, that automatically makes me an expert.

"And then after the whole shipwreck thing the Prime Minster of Canada gave
me a million bajillion dollars and said that I am now King of Canada but it has
to remain a super secret so people don't get freaked out and also..."

While the film is very entertaining, engaging and emotional (not afraid to admit it made me cry near the end) the film did have some detractors within it. For example, there is a dream sequence/drug trip brought on possibly by eating raw fish that involves some really bad CGI animals that look like slightly clearer Playstation One graphics but these animations are short lived and the superior CGI Richard Parker comes back into play pretty quickly after. The dream sequence is warranted for Pi and Richard Parker’s story and it helps meld their fates together but some of the animation within it can be…not so pretty.

I’m pretty sure Gérard Depardieu’s role was also completely computer generated.

The film’s religious themes also ended up working against the film for me as they tend to feel like the movie is trying to be politically correct and make the argument that all religions are true and correct but atheism is still wrong and if you deny God you’ll die—oh and the Christian God is the best God of them all. Pi says he subscribes to all religions of the world and as he goes through his journey he spends time giving thanks to all the Gods he believes have protected him, however, when things got their worse and he ended up surviving it all, he thanks God for pulling him through this. While he never says it’s the Christian God he’s thanking I gathered from the story and the fact that Pi mentions Christianity more than the other religions he practices (even the Islamic faith which is kinda mentioned at one point and never really returned to) is that the Christian faith is stronger than any other and some other faiths are out to flat-out kill you (this imagery is utilized in the mysterious carnivorous island that appears on Pi’s journey—and on the topic of the carnivorous island…if I was the writer listening to Pi’s story and this part came up I would immediately call bullshit but that’s me).

He misses his Frosted Flakes.

It also felt the film hinted at the idea that if you don’t believe in God you’re pretty much as good as dead. For example, Pi’s father and brother are both skeptical of religion (they never flat-out say they’re atheist but Pi’s father seems to be quite the antitheist as he argues with Pi to think more rationally rather than spiritually) and Pi’s mother appears to be more of the empathetic agnostic—her spirituality seems more of acceptance of Pi’s Pokémon style approach to religion but she never really speaks about her beliefs. So, what happens to these people? They die. But not Pi. Thanks to his life insurance that consists of believing in every single religion he wasn’t consumed by Neptune’s wrath when the boat sake but his heathen family members who haven’t given themselves completely to the creator did. Whether it was the intention or not, the film definitely felt like it was making the argument you better believe in God or you’ll die.

"Hey is that a quarter?  Boy, God does love me!"

Since I am a proud atheist the theme of using God as a “Get out of Jail (or shipwreck)” free card pretty much goes along with the idea of believing for the sake of believing or believing because you fear what comes next is just lazy and goes completely against the concept of believing in a higher power—fearing the man that created you is not healthy. In that sense, Life of Pi ends up with a spiritual-based story that comes off as a sermon that says “love God or die by his hand” and that can be a little distracting and harmful to the story.  That isn't to say that Ang Lee was trying to create a film that was stating "God good/atheism bad" but it was just was what I saw in the film.  This perspective only became stronger when it's revealed that Pi's account could be false (like the carniverous island isn't a clue to that) and he offers up a 2nd story (of course, this ended up being an element of the story that, while simultaneously giving me the sense that the movie was trying to be a cheerleader for God, it also made for some compelling storytelling). The powerful emotional elements, the harrowing tale of survival and how did it exactly happen and the companionship that develops between Pi and Richard Parker ends up trumping the annoying religions themes that ultimately came off more preachy than hopeful from my perspective. And, as you can tell from the score, the sermon of “God will let you live because you covered your bases and will even give you a tiger buddy” wasn’t enough to hurt my score as it is balanced out by throwing in some themes of a healthy respect for nature and, like I said before, it also gives off some stunning visuals.

Stunning visuals like an orangutan looking solemnly into the distance.

Life of Pi was a movie that ended being more enjoyable for me than I originally predicted. Granted the religious themes come off like that friend of yours that says “I would rather believe in God and be wrong when I die than not believe and be wrong when I die” and give off an overall feel of being uncertain and insecure in the concept of God rather than accepting and rejoicing in such an idea, and I was slightly offended by the added on spiritual concept that if you don't believe and rather openly subscribe to Western medicine and rational thought instead of idealism (like Pi’s father) you’re as good as dead and are kinda bossy and demanding and a tad jerky when alive (yeah, they made Pi’s dad look like a minor dickhead in the film). However, the human emotion, the majestic wonder, fantastic storytelling from the character of Pi (not to mention the overwhelming amount of symbolism the film offers up that can keep you discussing and interpreting the film for hours on end) and unbelievable special effects and sights made Life of Pi to be a movie worth viewing.

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