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“Life of Pi,” based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, is a beautiful spectacle of cinematic art but fantastic elements disconnect the audience from the story.
The story, as Pi Patel tells it to a writer, documents his life leading up to and including becoming the only survivor of a shipwreck.
The first 30 minutes of the movie unfolds with the back story of his character and the development of his Universalist views on faith. The remainder of the film shows his story of survival on a life boat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
There are many scenes in this film that were very beautiful. Colorful sunscapes and spectacles in the night fill the screen with wonder. But the computer-generated scenery is part of the problem with this film.
Amidst the dazzling images on screen, the disconnect happens. It makes the entire adventure highly unbelievable. More incredible adventures have occurred on film but they are so swept away in a fictional world from the beginning, the audience buys into it.
In this film, we are expected to believe the story he is telling is true, so at the end,when he gives a more graphic and sad account of the story, we choose to believe the version he has unraveled in the film instead of the story that sounds more realistic. I did not.
Another aspect that makes the movie unbelievable is the computer-generated animals and over-exaggerated scenes of ocean life. Nature is amazing on it’s own without the aid of computer-generated effects. The special effects work in a film like “The Chronicles of Narnia” because not only do the creatures in that story talk, but the audience already is expecting the imaginary. Because the audience buys into the idea in the beginning, the effects add to the experience.
Because from the beginning of this film we are expected to believe the story he is telling is true, the added effects detract from the story rather than add to it.
There are many things that couldn’t be done in this film with a real tiger, but if that is the case, then the choice might be not to make the movie at all. A computer-generated tiger cannot replace the majesty of the real thing. This version also gives character traits to the animal not naturally there, creating a further break from reality.
Newcomer Suraj Sharma gives a good performance as the young Pi stranded in the ocean. Older Pi, Irrfan Khan (“The Amazing Spider Man”) and writer Rafe Spall (“Prometheus”) also are convincing.
Audiences are promised a harrowing adventure as one young man braves the seas with a man-eating tiger. What they get is an artistic display through computer-generated effects.