By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin November 21, 2012 at 1:00AM
A book that many people considered unfilmable has inspired one of the year’s most riveting and rewarding movies. I don’t like using hype words, but I found Life of Pi truly magical. I’m even enthusiastic about its use of 3-D, which seems organic and genuinely enhances the film. Another jargon word I’ve come to dislike is “immersive,” yet it is the best way to describe the experience of watching Life of Pi. Rather than observing it from a distance we’re made to feel part of its leading character’s remarkable odyssey.
Life of Pi is about many things, but first and foremost it is about storytelling, so it is fitting that its protagonist narrates his own story—first, as an adult (played by Irrfan Khan) recounting his adventures to a writer he has just met (Rafe Spall), and then in the voice of his younger self.
Newcomer Suraj Sharma captures and commands the screen as a young man who has never fit in with his peers. His family doesn’t understand his boundless curiosity about life, although they have stirred much of it by giving him a provocatively unusual name (Piscine—or Pi for short) and raising him in the midst of an exotic zoo in Pondicherry, India. Circumstance, or fate, sees him shipwrecked on a sailboat with four of those animals, although only one survives: a 450-pound Bengal tiger quixotically named Richard Parker.
It is at once a story of survival, a quest for enlightenment, a meditation on what matters most in life, and more. Yann Martel’s allegorical novel, and this thoughtful adaptation by David Magee, can be taken as literally or as symbolically as one chooses. In the hands of director Ang Lee it becomes something rare and precious: a film that makes the impossible seem real and the implausible a thing of wonder.
The work of an army of CGI artists has negated the old adage that seeing is believing. Even though our rational mind may tell us that Richard Parker is not a real tiger, our moviegoing consciousness says otherwise rather forcefully. Life of Pi offers a phantasmagoria, lulling us into a kind of dream-state where reality and imagination blur in the most beguiling way.
Please don’t wait to watch this at home: find the best theater near you, don those 3-D glasses, and prepare to be taken on a magic carpet ride.