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'Life of Pi' Review: Ang Lee's Gorgeous Adaptation is Stunning 3-D Triumph

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 21, 2012 at 12:53PM

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.
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Life of Pi

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.

This article is related to: Life of Pi, Ang Lee, Reviews, Reviews, New York Film Festival , Festivals, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.