Life of Pi (4 stars)

Life of Pi

A fabulously beautiful and faithful adaptation from director Ang Lee

Yann Martel’s wildly imaginative, though long thought unfilmable, Booker Prize-winning 2001 novel is here treated to a ravishing 3D cinematic adaptation by filmmaker Ang Lee. Lee, who has previously transformed a wide variety of literary subjects – Sense and Sensibility, Hulk, Brokeback Mountain – into cinematic gold and who appears to be able to turn his hand to any film genre – martial arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, western in Ride With the Devil, espionage/erotica in Lust, Caution – has created such a fabulously beautiful – and faithful – vision of Martel’s novel one wonders how anyone could ever have thought the source material unsuitable for the big screen.

The abiding image of Martel’s extraordinary tale is that of the eponymous young Indian boy, Pi, and a ferocious Bengali tiger, oddly named Richard Parker, lost at sea together on a lifeboat after a ship transporting Pi’s father’s zoo full of animals sinks in the Pacific Ocean. But there’s a lot more to the book than a battle of wills and claws in a confined space. Indeed, as Lee’s film reminds us, the book is a flight of fantasy that also takes in storms, sea monsters and a fantastic island, not to mention some crafty narrative slights of hand that illustrate the overarching concern of Martel’s novel: the importance of imagination and storytelling in our lives.

The tale of the boy and cat castaways is bookended by middle-aged Pi recounting his fantastic story to an initially incredulous novelist who’s interested in turning it into a book. Though necessary to the telling of the tale, these scenes feel somewhat tame in comparison to the grandeur of the ones that take place upon the high seas, which are by turns thrilling, funny, moving and awe-inspiring. One might argue that is the point of the book and now the film.

General release from Thu 20 Dec.

Life of Pi trailer

Life of Pi

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • US
  • 2h 7min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Ang Lee
  • Written by: Yann Martel, David Magee
  • Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall
  • UK release: 21 December 2012

Ravishing version of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel, in which Indian boy Pi (Sharma) is lost at sea on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger. A beautiful and faithfully-adapted adventure story, demonstrating that Lee hasn’t lost his knack for turning literary subjects into cinematic gold.