‘Life of Pi’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 4:00 am,

Life of Pi Review starring Suraj Sharma and Richard Parker Life of Pi Review

If you aren’t put-off by the idea of exploring some new age concepts about life and spirituality, then this a film the entire family will enjoy during the holiday season.

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was long considered an unfilmable novel – and not without good reason. In the film version, the story revolves around a burned-out writer (Rafe Spall) who, in his travels, gets wind of a remarkable story about a man once shipwrecked at sea. The writer approaches the man, Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), who promises to tell him a story that will not only awe him, but also make him believe in God.

We are then treated to a story starting in Pi’s younger years, focusing on his curiosity about (and eventual acceptance of) multiple religions – a practice which only exacerbates his pragmatic-minded father. Life takes a hard turn when Pi, as a young man (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma), is on a freighter with his family bound for America to sell their collection of zoo animals. When a freak storm sinks the ship, Pi escapes on a lifeboat with a small band of animal survivors in tow – including the fearsome tiger, “Richard Parker.” From there, the young man of many faiths must endure a trial of survival alongside his animal companions, learning many things about God and faith along the way.

Life of Pi is a cinematic tall-tale parable of the best kind, and stands alongside other acclaimed films in the genre, such as Forrest Gump and Big Fish. However, unlike those more whimsical tales, there is something deeper and more serious at work in Pi - but director Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonBrokeback Mountain) manages to balance the serious elements with the fantastical ones, while making it all look truly spectacular (on a whole other level) thanks to his work in the 3D format. If you’re wondering: this movie is definitely worth the upgraded ticket price.

Pi vs. Richard Parker in Life of Pi Life of Pi Review

The fact that the film works at all is a minor miracle in and of itself. After an amusing opening (that feels very much in the same heartwarming and funny vein as Gump), the film segues into an epic disaster set piece before settling into its real identity: a single-setting drama where the stage is literally a lifeboat and makeshift raft, and our players are a newcomer young actor and an alternating mix of real and CGI tigers. Not a recipe for success, by most Hollywood standards. But Life of Pi beats the odds because of Lee’s masterfully versatile ability as a director; Sharma’s surprisingly strong presence as a leading man; and some fantastic effects work and animal stunt work that went into creating Richard Parker – who is sure to become another non-human movie character revered by many viewers.

Lee’s direction creates a wondrous visual palette for the film – from the earthy tones of the Indian and American settings, to the surrealist composition of the ocean sequences. Indeed, someone could run a filmmaking seminar on just the water sequences and their effects – and the 3D format is used to truly pull the viewer into the film, while firmly establishing the sense that Pi and Richard Parker are sharing a finite space on a vast stage. Specific sequences (like the freighter sinking or Pi encountering a whale in the midst of a bioluminescent sea) are enough to put most other 3D films to shame, as they offer a level of visual artistry that has hardly been matched by anyone working in the stereoscopic format. As stated, what’s so impressive about Ang Lee is not just his level of craftsmanship as a director, but rather his versatility: Hulk, The Ice Storm, Crouching Tiger, Brokeback Mountain and Life of Pi are all very different films, but their respective visuals are all top-notch.

Suraj Sharma Bioluminescent Sea in Life of Pi Life of Pi Review

Spectacular 3D visuals abound in ‘Life of Pi’

The collection of actors who play Pi at various ages (actors Gautam Belur and Ayush Tandon as young Pi, Irrfan Khan as older Pi) are all charming and likable, but Suraj Sharma achieves a star-making debut as young man Pi stranded on the boat. This film lives (or dies) on the strength of its leading man and his ability to hold the screen, and Sharma rises to the occasion in every way. The camera loves him, he’s charmingly funny, and he’s reasonably believable in moments of extreme emotion (tragedy, fear). He even manages the difficult task of engaging an animal/CGI character in a way that creates a great chemistry between the two – which is something that even veteran actors have a hard time with.

As great as Sharma is, though, it’s hard to deny that the real star of show is “Richard Parker,” the tiger that is stranded on the boat with Pi. Created from a mix of CGI and four actual Bengal Tigers, the animal character is an alternating mix of house pet lovability and fearsome (at times frightening) beastly impulse. The switches between real and CGI tigers are nearly imperceptible most of the time, and technical awards are certainly in order for those who helped create one of the more memorable movie characters of the year. (Side Note: if you know someone who is a cat lover, this is the movie to take them to.)

Richard Parker in Life of Pi Life of Pi Review

Richard Parker in ‘Life of Pi’

Where Life of Pi falls short of “classic” status is in David Magee’s (Finding Neverland) screenplay. The tone is well balanced, the character and narrative development is lively and focused (a bit of meandering here and there) and Magee finds places to inject real emotion into the tale; ultimately, the problem with the script is a thematic one. The opening and closing acts of the film (like the novel) deal heavily with the idea of spirituality and religion, centering around Pi and his choice to believe in many faiths – a seeming contradiction for most people. The middle act (on the boat/raft) is meant to be a parable in which “the writer” character (and subsequently we the audience) come to understand Pi’s views on God and life – but this is where the film version falls short.

The problem is that in the middle act, Magee shifts the story to a relationship drama between Pi and Richard Parker, and though there is still some time devoted to exploring Pi’s relationship with God during his trial at sea, that element of the narrative is superseded by the boy/animal dynamic and an indulgence on Lee’s part in the visual composition. The third act of the story (in both book and movie) attempts to throw in a twist and end things on a cumulative statement by Pi, intended to bring all the elements of the story together into a philosophical point about the nature of God – but I don’t think that resolution has the profound impact the movie seems to think it does.

Life of Pi starring Suraj Sharma Life of Pi Review

Suraj Sharma in ‘Life of Pi’

While Magee did a good job capturing the tone of the book and creating an interesting film out of a static setting, this is simply another case where the depth offered by a novel is somewhat lost in translation to the screen (specifically the spiritual elements that are explored while Pi is at sea). Time and reflection may help some viewers better comprehend the climax of the film, but others will be confused or disappointed with how things play out.

One could always make the argument that the movie version of a book is never as rewarding as the book itself – and while there’s a certain amount of truth to that, Life of Pi still stands as an applaudable achievement for Ang Lee, Suraj Sharma, the 3D format and the technical artists who created Richard Parker. If you aren’t put-off by the idea of exploring some new age concepts about life and spirituality, then this a film the entire family will enjoy during the holiday season.

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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Life of Pi episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Life of Pi is now playing in theaters everywhere. It is Rated PG for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

TAGS: Life of pi
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  1. Nice review and for sure a good watch !

    • Very thoughtfully said. I actually agreed with your idea of the Tiger as “God”. I also think that at the end when Richard Parker walked away, out of his life Pi realised that he doesn’t need to believe in the Devine anymore cause everyday miracle is his own doing, it’s his believe that got him this far

  2. (quick note: it’s “Bengal” tiger.. not “Bengali”)

    Thanks for the review.
    I’ve been looking VERY much forward to this film.
    You’ve convinced me, at least, that I should see it in 3D.

    • Thanks Mike – Got that pesky “i” out of there.

      • inmran kahn not irran khan…..

        • Imran Khan was a cricketer, now Pakistani politician.

          The actor’s name is Irfhan Khan.

          Anyway, looks great and I saw a trailer last night when I went to see Skyfall (only a month late lol), looked awesome.

          Plus it’s weird synchronicity that I find out what the movie is about when I’m becoming even more spiritual myself and have been looking into all faiths over the past year without having heard of this book or movie until now.

      • Must watch in 3D!!!

  3. great movie……visiuals are a beat to avatar……

  4. I’m still wondering about the cross-over possibilities with The Amazing Spider-Man…

    “Did you tell the boy about his father? You know, that he was a tiger and everything?”

    • lol…a lizard, a vulture, a rhino, AND a tiger? oh my lol

  5. What a great review Kofi!!! Thanks.

  6. I’m definently going to see This now!

  7. I didn’t like the book. It started well, but it got very thin and obvious by the end. I especially disliked the “island” bit….. or was that not in there?

    • you mean the part where the tiger discovers that he’s really a clone and that he’s there for spare parts for other tigers?

    • Island part is still in there – and it’s still flimsy.

  8. I saw this in an advanced screening, I’ll have to disagree with your review… For me it’ll be a 3/5 movie at best. The movie in terms of the visual spectacle was amazing. Definitely made good use of 3D, but in terms of the plot, it was only ok. But what really stood out for me was just how downright annoying the main character was throughout the movie. That kind of killed it for me. Every scene where it looks like they were in peril, I really only cared about the tiger’s well-being, not his…

    • Just saw this. While I agree with 3/5, and I love Ang Lee & His movies, the reason I didn’t like this one is because of the “unresolved” bit at the end. I understand it makes for a good question, and applies easily to life, but I’m wondering just how many metaphors are at work here.

      So.. my problem is not with ANg Lee’s direction, nor the performance of the lead actors…
      it’s the story that I’m not “thrilled” with.

      to be fair, I loved the slow [or as Ang Lee would say] Chinese pacing of the first Act, I was drawn to his family, [Mum, Bro, & Pa]

      and I really liked the last 10 minutes…

      but I’m also tormented by the last 10 minutes…

      I usually see a movie at least twice, but I’m pretty sure 1ce was more than enough for me here.

      that being said, anything Ang Lee puts out I’m always going to see

      • I liked everything about the book, including the island. It could have used a tad more of it to demonstrate it’s night and day nature IMO. But all and all loved it. I am so glad Ang Lee directed it. As much as I like other directors I don’t think anyone else could have done the book justice.

        Anyway, regarding the last ten minutes: I was struck at how it was handled. I can understand the decision and appreciate it, but it seemed strange to me, at first, in such a visual movie. Ultimately I think Ang Lee knew what he was doing. Don’t want to spoil it by saying more.

        This movie could really use a spoiler section.

  9. Can be called the twin brother of Avatar in the sense of ENTERTAINMENT. Integrated 3D special effects, holophonic sound effects and great team work makes this movie a worth watch.

    • @Rahul

      Kind of, but Avatar definitely has the upper hand in the visual department. It was a true technological marvel. And while its story was pretty weak, it wasn’t quite as annoying as the main character in this movie… I swear if I have to hear that kid screaming in his annoying high-pitch screeching voice I’m going to shoot someone…

  10. Great review for a great movie (based on an amazing book). My only complaint is that you mentioned twice that Pi was on his way to America, when it was actually Canada. For once Canada gets mentioned instead of the often referenced US (which makes sense as the author is Canadian), please don’t take that away from us!

  11. A very pretty movie, As all of Lees movies are. He even made the Hulk pretty. But also like his other movies too sappily emotional and weak on story.

    • Lee seems to be a Hollywood trend follower. Back when gay characters were all the rage he made Brokeback Mountain. When super heroes took took off he did Hulk. Recently I’ve noticed India and Indian characters being pushed and here he makes this movie. I see some signs that Muslim characters or possibly Latinos might be next so let’s see if he follows suit.

      • I think you’re way off.
        I remember him saying in an article that “he’ll go wherever there’s a good story to be told” no matter the cultural or physical boundaries or challenges – [paraphrasing]

        He’s a courageous director, and I appreciate that he takes chances in order to tell what he believes to be a good story.

        and you’re dangerously close to offensive with your comment about Brokeback Mountain.
        as Ang Lee himself has said..

        “it’s a love story” not a gay movie.

        • I’m so glad Ang Lee did the movie. He gets “layers” and depth of stories and characters. Thandrale is way off the mark.

    • He did say in a recent interview [when asked about the avengers?]
      that he feels he made a mistake with the Hulk, as he made it too serious, and the Hulk should be more “fun” and lighthearted.

      but he also went on to say that he learned from that, and it’s helped to make him a better filmmaker

  12. Did not meet the expectation.. Only few scenes are 3D.. apart from that all movie was just like 2D normal movie..

  13. GREAT FILM! Saw the film, yesterday before thanksgiving, it was good. I highly recommend it. Is not your typical hollywood action-smash flick, but its something new, though it pases like a book, its still a good film (better than Harry Potter for sure).

  14. Loved this movie as it indeed made my bladder itch non stop.

    • yeah, I had to hold it in as well. Bad time for a large juice

  15. The tiger should have turned around and said goodbye.

    • no spoilers

  16. Wonderful review. I agree almost to the letter. Life of Pi is cut from very fine cloth on many levels, and some of those visual sequences were downright transcendental experiences for me. I also thought that the cast was great, and Ang Lee is one of my favorite directors. *But* the theme of spirituality was *not* clearly followed through on, and so storywise it did not quite connect for me. The ending did not effectively make sense of it all. Avatar had a simpler idea going, but it stuck to it better.

  17. Kofi, I have to disagree with one thing in your review, and it’s not even about the film. You said the visuals in Hulk were top notch. I thought they were terrible. The battle scene at the end was so dark you couldn’t see what is happening. Plus the movie in itself was pretty weak.

  18. Great review. I went into this movie knowing little about the story and having no expectations for it. I left knowing I saw one of the best films of the year. I really loved this movie.

  19. My review of the movie Life of Pi which is stunningly beautiful and pure cinematic pleasure. http://jigardoshi91.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/life-of-pi-movie-review/

  20. Phenomenal film on every level.

  21. Hey guys, we’ve (finally) set up a ‘Life of Pi’ spoilers discussion post: http://screenrant.com/hMx

  22. There were many visuals where I got overwhelmed and wasn’t able to take it. This may be limited to my experience…….It was like I being there and facing death. especially, scenes underwater… The movie was a spiritual experience .. when you have nothing to loose and you give in completly… you say “I surrender”……. However, was expecting more to come out of the human and animal connect……..

  23. Thanks so much for nicely readable review.
    I was looking to see a good movie today 8-Dec on my marriage anniversary.
    I like animals & birds movies very much.
    You’ve convinced me, at least, that I should see it in 3D, and I’ve never seen any film in 3D till today.

  24. love this movie,bravo to Ang Lee,awesome director. Never expect this movie could be so fun to watch cause through reading the book,i thought this movie gonna be boring but in reality is totaly vice versa. A Must Watch Movie. Love it, love it, love it.

  25. Well, I did not like this movie one bit. It’s super depressing. The story is horrific. The first half hour of the movie I noticed a few people with kids walking out (maybe thats because, the kids started crying when animals started brutally murdering each other) and I wish I had walked out as well.I am tired of bathroom humor in movies. Tired of movies failing miserably at trying to have a spiritual message.
    The movie was way too long. I thought this was going to be an animal movie like Dolphin Tale or Iron Will.
    Which story did I like better neither. Both stories are terrible.

  26. Great film. The effects were awesome. Richard Parker had real character which is rare in a CGI tiger. Its a film that will stand the test of time. A Masterpiece

  27. My rating for ” Life of Pi” is….3.1414141414 out of 5

  28. This movie is a masterpiesce. The first time i saw it ,focusing much about visul effect and plot and some basic philosophical ideas .But the second time i watched it,the core ideas gradually occur in my mind ,very incredible .He use a lot of skills which are similar with analyzing ,symbolizing ,matophor ,personification and so on.awesome .Iam very happy that it is directored by ANN LEE.Because he combines some Chinese thoughts and western directiong skills .admiring him very much .very humble guy .

  29. Wife books tickets for 2 families. 4 adults and and 4 kids (all k-s under 8). I was exchanging tiger glares and growls with wife for having the kids put through anticipatory murder. BUT….. I didn’t want to see the movie again either… especially after self’s 7 year old daughter was bawling with after life visions during the intermission and made promises that she will never leave us to die till she is a 100 years old etc…

    But after the movie was over – I have to say it didn’t feel like a 3D movie at all! Ang Lee!!!! Fantastic picturization and Sharma was was the perfect toy in the directors mind.

    Being a nerd by profession, I just could not overcome the CGI nature of the tiger, zebra and hyena, so I am sort of dimmed the thrill for me. I suffered the same torture in Avatar so… no one to blame. Nevertheless it was a fantastic plot and direction. Just fascinating.

    Then comes the drab ending that grows on you and gnaws at you. Finally just to hit you like a tsunami the next morning! How many films do you ever remember and carry over to the next day!! This one stuck through the night and the contrast of the 2 sub-plots magnificently manifests it self the more you ponder. The godly and fantasy version with fantastic special effects one one side and the realistic version with plainly drab and tragic narrative on the other. How else do you make believers believe? Just confuse the hell out of them eh? EH? EH? EH?

    And the bonus is that the kids 4 and 8 dont seem to have any nightmares about the films yet!!!

    Thoroughly satisfied.