During the seven years that’ve passed since Ang Lee won an Academy Award for directing Brokeback Mountain, the Taiwanese filmmaker has been operating well below the average moviegoer’s radar – making films like the steamy WW II espionage drama Lust, Caution and the hippie-centric dramedy Taking Woodstock. That should change this December, with the release of Lee’s 3D Life of Pi adaptation.

Life of Pi is based on Yann Martel’s popular (and decorated) 2001 novel. At different stages during its development, people like Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men), Jean-Pierre Jeanet (Amélie) and M. Night Shyamalan were either loosely attached or expressed an interest in overseeing the project. In case you couldn’t tell, Life of Pi definitely counts as “prestigious” (Oscar bait?) material.

The central narrative thread in Life of Pi concerns the experiences of Piscine Molitor Patel (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma), an Indian teenager with an unusual perspective on spirituality (he follows the Hindu, Christian, and Muslim faith) whose father runs a zoo. Due to the mockable nature of his name – which is pronounced similar to “pissing” – Piscine ends up taking on the shorter nickname “Pi.”

Eventually, Pi and his family decide to travel overseas to Canada, due to the political climate in India. However, the ship carrying their animals (and Pi) unexpectedly sinks, stranding the young man aboard a life boat with a handful of wild animals as his companions – including, a Bengal tiger dubbed “Richard Parker.”

Check out “Richard Parker” and young Pi in the first officially-released still frame from Life of Pi:

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If the above image from Life of Pi looks somewhat artificial and painterly (like imagery from a Tarsem Singh film such as The Fall or Immortals), well, that’s both fitting and probably intentional.

WARNING: If you do not want to know anything else about what happens in Life of Pi, DO NOT READ ON!

To explain: a different section of Martel’s Life of Pi novel revolves around an older Pi (Amazing Spider-Man‘s Irrfan Khan, a.k.a. Irrfan) telling his mind-boggling tale of survival to a couple of Japanese maritime employees, who are trying to determine the truth about the shipwreck Pi was involved in. Eventually, Pi presents an alternative, “more realistic” version of his original, dreamlike (thematically and visually) story.

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As you’ve surely picked up, Life of Pi deals with some heady concepts about the nature of faith and how our personal beliefs shape the very way we perceive the world around us. Considering the talent – including Oscar-nominated screenwriter David Magee (Finding Neverland) – and technology involved in bringing Martel’s mystifying novel to cinematic life, this is one flick that any film geek worth their salt should keep an eye on.

Life of Pi is scheduled for theatrical release in the U.S. on December 21st, 2012.

Source: Criterion Cast