Flapperdoodle's Gaming Blog Ep. 125: Life of Pi Review
Life of Pi is a very confusing film for me. It does have some problems getting into and getting out of the bulk of the film, there are acting and script wonkiness here and there, and the last 10 minutes of this movie is just poorly executed. But at the same time, the movie has amazing visuals, with near perfect CGI and motion capture work on the animal. Most of the acting is great, and the movie is compelling. It just never made a personal connection with me, which is why I am probably not going to remember it as well as some other movies this year. I recommend going to see it, but it isn't my full cup of tea sadly. Ang Lee does give fantastic direction however, that's for sure.
I really had no intentions to see this movie. Honestly. This was just one of those times where I went with the flow and went to go see a movie Roger Ebert gave four out of four stars. Yeah, I trust this guy mostly. So, I went to go see this. Meh, I guess I have thoughts on it… or something… hee hee.
For the advertising campaign for "Life of Pi", one of the quotes used from the critics describing this movie is, "The next Avatar…" which is probably not exactly the best thing to say. "Avatar", the 2009 visual spectacle, wasn't exactly a brilliant movie. It has wonderful visuals and amazing CGI, but in nearly every other department, the movie was trying… but failing. The movie had a very cliche overtone. The movie even has garnered it's own term, "Avatar Syndrome". But sadly, "Life of Pi" and "Avatar" have more in common than you think. Not only are both being praised for the amazing visual experience, but the visual effects are being used to tell a story. Many of the characters in "Avatar" are completely made of motion capture and CGI. Similarly, the Tiger in "Life of Pi" is one quarter motion capture, one quarter real, and then the rest is straight up CGI. Both movies also involve the characters discovering new things about themselves and the world around them. But the thing that may make people more interested is that both movies were directed by people who are seen as truly visionary people. James Cameron has created an empire with "Avatar" practically, with two more movies already being developed. Ang Lee has directed some very impressive movies, such as "Brokeback Mountain" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". So, there's a lot to expect. But, despite the similarities to "Avatar", can "Life of Pi" overcome visuals overtaking the quality of a film? Let's take a look…
Life of Pi Review
An unnamed writer (Rafe Spall) is looking for a story to write about, and finds one in Pi Patel (as an adult, played by Irrfan Khan). The unknown writer is told that the story will make him believe in god, so Pi explains the tale through a flashback. Named after a pool in France named "Piscine Molitor" and giving himself the nickname, Pi is at first a boy (at this stage played by Ayush Tandon) living in India. As he continues to grow older with his parents (played by Adil Hussain and Tabu) and his older brother (played by Vibish Sivakumar), he begins to discover religion, and begins to follow Christianity and Islam along with Hinduism. Despite his zoologist father's disapproval, he begins to discover what life is all about. But due to troubles beyond their control, Pi, now a teenager (at this stage and for the rest of the movie played by Suraj Sharma) and his family decide to move to Canada, taking some animals from their already established zoo with them on a freight boat. All is going fine until an extreme thunderstorm at sea causes an explosion on the ship. After much confusion and chaos, Pi is accidentally dropped into the water on an escape boat with a few excess animals. But much to his despair, the disaster leaves the entire the boat sunk in the ocean. Now stranded somewhere in the Pacific, the only life he has to communicate with are a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and the only to survive past day one, a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Struggling to survive, Pi and Richard Parker must find a way to live with each other, eventually creating a connection between each other deeper than both of them ever expected.
I never read the novel Life of Pi, nor had I heard of it until I saw the trailer for this film. And at first, Life of Pi looked like another movie that would fall to "Avatar Syndrome", but only more pretentious. But after doing some research, I walked into the movie confused at what I wanted to see from the film. And surprisingly enough, I walked out overall confused at what I got. I can see the movie is well made and good in many aspects… but at the same time I failed to love the movie on a personal level.
Everything you've been hearing about are essentially true. If this movie should be described as anything, it's a visual spectacle. I wouldn't necessarily say the movie reaches "Avatar" levels of amazement, and that's not a bad thing necessarily. "Avatar" heavily relies on its visuals, with some scenes consisting entirely of CGI and motion capture. That being said, the land in "Avatar" is gorgeous and complex in design. "Life of Pi" is based in the real world, and never goes so far as to have an environment completely 100% computer generated. With that being said, the movie does use a lot of CGI, but because it has to. The animal characters in this movie need to be given much more life than a normal animal can bring on his own. Also… nobody wants to film in front of a live tiger. They do a great job of combining methods to create an incredibly lifelike character in Richard Parker. His emotions are there, and you can feel them within yourself. Similar to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the character of Richard Parker is fully realized and used to its fullest potential. There are other animals where CGI is used to give off characterization, and it works every time. But besides for that, the movie also has many intense scenes involving storms and sea craziness. When this happens, this is when the true eye-popping effects show what they are made of. The ship sinking scene, as well as other scenes at sea, keep you invested throughout the entire thing. The drama and intensity never wavers. The camerawork is very impressive, and these are easily the best parts of the movie. There is also another scene which can only be described as an acid trip. This is a perfect example of when the film becomes colorful, like in the beginning and during this said acid trip. The entire movie is just a bombardment of fantastic visuals. If you want something visually stimulating, this is perfect.
The movie also does a good job of telling the story of Pi himself and his journey. It's not easy executing a compelling story that is 90% at sea. However, Ang Lee's strong direction keeps the movie compelling and interesting throughout all of Pi's adventure, specifically. The various tasks Pi must accomplish are taken into account, as we see him fish for food, build rafts, and train Richard Parker. None of this is ever boring, as the likable characters and the beautiful scenery keep you invested. No matter what Pi is doing, you want to know what happens next, while you are also entertained to see what will happen in that moment. It's rather impressive how Lee accomplishes such compelling storytelling throughout the bulk of the film, which is Pi stranded. Sadly, the movie doesn't do this as well during the first and last quarters of the film. The beginning of the film is essentially piles of character development being thrown at your face like fast punches, and while these segments aren't bad per say, the movie takes a bit too long to develop Pi as a character. I would spend maybe 20 minutes, 30 if absolutely necessary. But the movie takes 30 - 40 minutes to backup Pi as a character, when plenty of things didn't even need to be included. It was enjoyable to watch, but with the movie being 2+ hours, it needed to be a little bit shorter. But the real problem is with the final quarter of the movie, which left me so… confused. Not only did it leave me on a very sour note, and not in the good way, it went against everything the movie was trying to set in stone. Now, this could be because of the book's events, and if so than this isn't the movie's fault. But it isn't about what happens necessarily… it's more so how it's executed, which is poorly. It left me nothing to latch on to and an overall confusing final moral.
The acting in the movie is a very mixed bag at times. Throughout the first quarter of the movie, the family interaction works very well, and is entertaining. The flashbacks of the childhood of Pi have very good performances from the cast. Once Suraj Sharma takes over Pi, he does a brilliant job of playing him. He definitely makes you feel for his sorrow, and he does a surprisingly good job working with a CGI tiger. He interacts with it as if it were there. Not only that, but Sharma never is afraid to let out his true emotions to make the movie feel real. He cries, he gets mad, he thinks deeply, and while sometimes this can be a little bit cheesy, most of the time it is hard-hitting and intriguing. His narration throughout the movie is also good, not seeming phoned in or lazy. On the other hand, Irrfan Khan does an ok job with Pi as an adult. There are some moments he truly gets into it, but a lot of time it doesn't feel like he is fully into it. It gets even worse when it comes to Rafe Spall. He isn't awful, but he doesn't do a good job. He's actually a British guy, yet he speaks with a regular American accent… and as you may expect by now, the dubbing isn't very good. It sounds very phoned in. I'm sure if they kept his accent there, it would've worked better. Khan and Spall don't really have sure-fire chemistry. And I guess they aren't supposed to in real life, but it still isn't the most enjoyable to watch. They don't act bad per say, it's just that at times it can be awkward and weird to watch. But that's also because their dialogue segments are the only times when the script becomes flat. The script is mostly good throughout the entire movie, but when Khan and Spall discuss some things… it begins to drop in quality sadly.
Before I make my main point about the movie's final grade, there are some other things worth mentioning. The movie has a two hour and seven minute running time. This can at first seem daunting, but the movie never truly feels that long. It does take a bit too long to get the bulk going and ending, but that isn't an overall pacing issue. It's perfectly paced for the bulk of it. Also, the movie does this weird thing for one scene. The movie adds black bars to the top and bottom of the screen, and then a scene occurs. It's a very wild and crazy scene, but you can tell it was made for 3D purposes. The images were coming into the black bars so that way the movie would be more 3D. Time for a mini-rant. I know you can make more money off of 3D, it's obvious, but don't do stuff like this. Honestly, it's a bad move to make a scene even more widescreen than it already is just to be 3D. I'm sure this could've been achieved in a few other ways. It just annoys me a little bit. This movie was said to use 3D to enhance the art of the movie, similar to "Hugo" last year, but I can't vouch for that because I did the smart thing and didn't pay an extra six dollars to watch a 3D movie. A word of advice, don't makes scenes for a movie so obviously made for 3D purposes. It just comes off as slightly annoying and cash-grabby.
But now it's time for me to discuss something that isn't very easy to describe. As I was watching this film, I was engaged in it for sure, but for some reason, I wasn't becoming personally invested in any of it. This movie is a perfect example of something I respect as a well made movie, but don't love as a possible favorite. I honestly don't know why this occurs. Maybe it's just luck of the draw, maybe it's because of the final fourth of the movie, I don't know. All I know is that I wasn't emotionally connected to this movie. It upsets me to say it, but this is just what happens at times. It doesn't degrade the quality of the movie too much, but that may make sense about why the movie got the grade it ended up getting. If I was going to make a list of the best movies of the year, this may be on their. But would I say it's one of my favorites of the year so far? Oh, definitely not. And that's not in a bad way, that's just because there are so many movies I liked more. So, in the end, this movie just failed to make a personal connection to me. This most likely won't happen to you, as most people won't fall to this. This is a once in a blue moon thing guys, and don't truthfully take this into consideration whether or not you will see this movie. This is just a personal rant for me. It didn't impact me. I think the movie is well made in many aspects, but I probably won't remember it by next year.
"Life of Pi" is… a confusing film for me. Sure, it has some issues getting to the bulk of the movie at sea, it has some script wonkiness when out of flashbacks, and some of the acting and chemistry isn't here, but the movie is an overall well made movie. It has incredibly compelling storm scenes, which are accompanied by amazing visuals, not only at sea, but with shots of animals and combinations of colors. The movie's use of CGI and motion capture is stunningly accurate, and you never see any inconsistencies with it. The storytelling is interesting, and the acting for the most part is good. I'm specifically talking about Suraj Sharma. He really is the heart of the movie, and it shows as he definitely keeps the movie going. The movie is interesting, dramatic, sometimes funny even. I am still going to give this movie the grade I think it rightfully deserves, despite the fact no connection personally was made enough for me to care. This movie may get nominated for best picture, and it has to be nominated in most of the effects departments cause… damn they're good in the movie. In the end, I think if you leave yourself with an open mind and go see the movie hoping for it to be good, I'm sure you'll find it good. But I went into this movie with a very confused idea of what I want… and in the end, that's exactly what I got. Who knows, maybe in a few days my opinion may become more solidified. But for now, my final grade for "Life of Pi" is an:
This is a grade I usually give out a lot to movies I like, but don't love. It makes sense for now. If my opinion changes, I'll mention it on Twitter. You can follow me @g1_Flaps. Have fun! This has been Flaps, see ya on the flip side!
- Larry :)