Based on the book by Yann Martel that has sold more than seven million copies and spent years on the bestseller lists, “Life of Pi” takes place over three continents, two oceans and a wide universe of imagination. Lee’s vision, coupled with stunning 3D visuals, has turned a novel long thought un-filmable into a thrillingly audacious mix of grand storytelling and powerful and provocative themes.
“Life of Pi” is Ang Lee’s first foray in 3D filmmaking starring newcomer Suraj Sharma who takes on the titular role of Pi. The story revolves around Piscine Patel, (known as Pi) who lives with his zoo keeping family in Pondicherry. They decide to emigrate to Canada, taking their animals along with them and set off on a huge freighter ship, steaming from India across the Pacific. But a terrible storm destroys the ship. The family and most of the animals perish. Pi survives, stranded on a lifeboat with several animals. Ultimately it is just Pi and a Bengal tiger who miraculously survive 227 days at sea.
The two castaways face unimaginable challenges, including nature’s majestic grandeur and fury, which lash their small lifeboat. One particularly monstrous storm becomes a spiritual experience for Pi, leading him to question God’s plan for him. “I’ve lost everything! I surrender! What more do you want?” Pi rails at the sky. But through it all, he never loses hope. Pi finds joy from something as simple as an old survival manual, as well as from the solace of the ocean’s beauty: the bioluminescent, rainbow hues of magnificent schools of flying fish; the shimmering blues of the ocean’s swells; and a radiant humpback whale that streaks to the surface of the ocean.
In telling Pi’s story, Mr. Lee pushes the boundaries of cutting-edge motion picture technologies. “Life of Pi” represents a moment when the science and art of filmmaking have jumped forward, as it did with the visual effects of “Titanic,” the 3D revolution of “Avatar,” and the CGI work in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” which brought unprecedented emotion and depth to the character of Caesar. And like Caesar, LIFE OF PI’s Richard Parker is a fully-realized, accessible character, whom you’ll believe was actually on that lifeboat with Suraj Sharma, who portrays Pi.
The attention to detail throughout LIFE OF PI is also impressive. Production designer David Gropman based Pi’s lifeboat “on archival drawings of a 1940s steel life boat”. He commissioned Haan Lee (Ang Lee’s son) to design Pi’s raft, that the character builds to separate himself from Richard Parker. ”I asked Haan to imagine himself as Pi, using the materials he would have had on the lifeboat: oars, life jackets, floorboards, etc. What Hann crafted was amazing, a triangle with a circle in the middle, which was a beautiful expression of ‘pi’.”
And through Mr. Lee’s use of 3D, the audience will be with Pi and Richard Parker, experiencing these extraordinary and visually stunning moments, immersed like never before in an epic movie adventure interwoven with an emotional and spiritual journey.
“Life of Pi” opens January 9 in cinemas nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.