Taiwan-born Ang Lee, more than any director working today, is a filmmaker for the world. His three great love stories -- martial arts romance "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," gay tragedy "Brokeback Mountain" and Jane Austen's"Sense and Sensibility"-- were accessible to multiple cultures. And with "Life of Pi" (November 21) Lee has fashioned, with screenwriter David Magee ("Finding Neverland") adapting Yann Martel's global bestseller, another love story that transcends borders. In this case, it's between a 17-year-old young man (non-pro Suraj Sharma) from India and a Bengal tiger.
Is it possible for a wild animal to love a human being? And vice versa? At a time in the world when religion can be so devisive, Martel's story of a Hindu/Christian/Muslim who is the sole human survivor of an ocean shipwreck reminds that film can both heal and inspire. But it is also a stunning technological triumph, as the VFX required were impossible until now. Conceived four years ago before the arrival of the 3-D "Avatar," this movie is a live-action/animation hybrid, as major characters like the threatening tiger and sublime phosphorescent Pacific seascapes could only be created by artists in the digital realm.
Scenes of breathtaking beauty have to be seen to be believed, from a simple shot of the tiger in the moonlight and several surreal mergers of sea and sky to Pi floating underwater watching the ship--his family aboard--going down. Not to mention a luminescent whale breach or sequences of thousands of flying silver fish --whirring at you in 3-D. Lee's mastery of the aesthetics of 3-D should not to be underestimated--he considered every detail in terms of its impact on the viewer. And never have spatial relationships been more dramatic, as Pi maneuvers with a large tiger in a small life boat on a huge ocean.