If it's crap ... We'll tell you
The Christmas festivities are (almost) at an end, the cupboards are looking much emptier of the excessive food and booze than before, and I'm at what will probably be the last theatrical release I will see in 2012. And oh man... did Hollywood save something really special for it tonight with Aang Lee's newest visual epic feature. Not having read the book I went into this pretty much cold except for the trailer and Spill review, and that provided for one incredible experience.
The story is told by an Indian man named Pi, who is telling his story to a novelist who wishes to turn the tale into a book. Pi traces the story right back to when he was a young boy, learning about the world through his learning of three religions, his interactions with his family, and of the Zoo that his father runs. He takes a particular interest in their Bengal Tiger, who through an error in the ownership documents gets the name of his catcher Richard Parker.
However, the family, through their father, decides to close the Zoo and start a new live in Canada, carrying the animals by ship there and then selling them in North America. The journey goes horribly wrong when a giant storm strikes the cargo vessel, causing it to sink in minutes. The crew and animals struggle in the water to survive being drowned, but Pi's family does not make it. He is left alone in a small lifeboat along with an injured zebra, orang-utan, a wild hyena, and the Bengal Tiger who is hidden in the tarp.
Pi thus describes the tale to the journalist, of how he managed to survive the many days on the lifeboat, and the sometimes spiritual journey that happens as well. His struggle to comprehend the situation along with the harsh conditions of the Pacific Ocean provides for a tale like no other that has ever been told...
And that turns out to be absolutely true here, "Life of Pi" is like no other movie you have seen, there is no comparison that can be made to it. The opening third or so deals with all the events prior to the storm, and are a blend of a young boy finding meaning in the world, and also delving into his spirituality. Many of his family members provide a role in here too in small portions, but only add to blending his early life together very well. There is a slight level of disbelief you have with his situations, but the amazing is contrasted very well with the harsh reality of life. This is probably the primary element that bears to the success of the film, and one I will come back to later on.
Pi's struggle to find meaning continues on into his almost-hellish experience aboard the raft. He is surrounded by danger not just from the Zoo animals beside him, but from sharks in the rolling seas, and the basic battle against the elements and hunger. Here, there is no easy way out at all, and the first stages are almost chaotic in how they play out. He has very little control over the situation, but then again, nobody possibly could. He is eventually left alone with the Tiger, Richard Parker, and their fates become intertwined as the story progresses through the many hardships that come along.
This being an Aang Lee movie, we are guaranteed a very unique visual and aesthetic flare, and we aren't disappointed in this case. I saw this in 2D, and it still managed to look astounding from the opening credits. Everything is shot with such care to attention that you almost begin to find the visuals mystical, like the older Pi is telling us an old fable story. And yet it is so well crafted that you buy into everything that happens, and get pulled in more and more as the story unfolds. The work on the animals is spectacular, I could hardly find any time where the CG began to become prominent. Especially in the case of the Tiger, whose every dawn breath feels as real as witnessing it in a Wildlife Park. Not only does this make the imagery pop from the screen, but it heightens the sense of real threat from him. He was scary in the early stages of the film but on the boat, every move he does makes you worry for Pi's safety.
But where things step a level higher is where is goes beyond a simple narrative, and becomes a voyage of spirituality for Pi. The sequences where it almost becomes a dream sequence... blew my fucking mind away. One worth mentioning happens on a crystal clear night, and the line between the horizon and sky just vanishes and they appear to be travelling through the very heavens themselves. That was the moment where it struck an emotional tone with me right to my very soul, and there were many more scenes just like that throughout. This film is unbelievably beautiful, and not just from the usual bucket of lavish CG that we are usually subjected to...
It would be a travesty to spoil any more of this for you, because the voyage the viewer goes on is just as great as Pi's is. But needless to say, the performances in here are especially good too. Suraj Sharma, who plays the teenage Pi here, succeeds in selling all the scenes to the audience. He has an excellent range combined with evoking just the right emotion for each scene. There are very few human moments in here so when they do appear, you recognise their authenticity. The production level as you can guess is through the roof, I'm amazed that such a film even got off the ground and was provided with the budget is required so much to bring to life. The music provides a perfect background to the major events, without being too loud or trying to take the attention completely, and the lighting both in effects and the classical sense, are truly mesmerising. They work the hardest in bringing across the spiritual notes, and every time my jaw slowly hit the floor.
As for the ending? If you are like me, going into this movie cold, I hope it hasn't been spoiled for you. Because the elegance in how everything is folded up and the final message, are the icing to the cake that you will never forget. It makes you want to see things in life from a different perspective, both on a rational and spiritual level. And don't worry - the spiritual element is played just right, so you never feel like you are getting a dull religion lesson. And I give high praise that the film never takes any "side", instead it acknowledges all sides as being of equal value in their own way.
In fact only one thing was out of place for me about the film... and that was the smell in the theatre from works being done on the sewage pipes. But, even the horrid Trainspotting-style toilet scent couldn't overcome my complete love for "Life of Pi". It really is a modern masterpiece, and one that you are rarely going to experience from another movie. Aang Lee's vision was absolutely spot on from a narrative, and illustrative point of view, and even with the opening third being a slow burn, it only works to build up for everything that will follow.
I am.... completely taken back at this. I can barely find fault with it at all, although I cannot judge how it will run on a second viewing. That remains to be seen when it comes out on Blu Ray in 2013, but right now I am happy to give this a Better Than Sex. (10/10) Wow, what a way to end 2012, I raise my glass to everyone that worked on this gem of a film. And hope that no animals were hurt or stranded on a bed of timber during its production.
Thanks for reading! ^__^