Visionary director Ang Lee crosses over into the digital world of 3D with his Oscar-nominated film Life of Pi. The film, which has been celebrated by many, might just be one of the best-looking 3D films ever made, but does it have what it takes to stretch beyond being just a visual spectacle, much like Fox’s previous box office success Avatar? No. Lee’s attempted inspirational tale between a boy and a tiger lost at sea unfortunately collapses on itself early on and never washes ashore to safety. Life of Pi is a special effects achievement without a doubt, but it’s far from a masterpiece.
Pi (Suraj Sharma/Irrfan Khan) is an upbeat and courageous young man that embraces every religion with a smile on his face. His life is presented through two lenses, both as an adult and a young boy. Clearly, his younger self is full of hope and adventure, rarely taking the coward’s way out. But as we see the older Pi we soon realize that while he is indeed still happy and thankful for everything that he’s received in life, he’s also much more at terms with just how painfully brutal life can be.
The story of Life of Pi follows young Pi Patel briefly from childhood into an event that will go on to change his life forever. Lost at sea, young Pi is stranded on a lifeboat with nothing more than a tiger from his father’s zoo. Pi must set aside his fear of the tiger and more important his fear of death to survive this event and learn to understand the true meaning of life, love and friendship.
Director Ang Lee paints a beautiful picture at just over two hours. Life of Pi is miraculously shot, with Lee fully utilizing the digital technology not just to enhance the story, but to tell it as effectively as possible. The CGI tiger is nearly flawless and helps give the feeling of a living and breathing animal just feet away from the skinny and sometimes-defenseless Pi.
Lee also takes advantage of 3D to add an entire new level of interaction. Life of Pi has more than one sequence that fully utilizes the added depth to put you right there with Pi as he attempts to climb aboard a lifeboat as the giant cargo ship collapses into the deep sea. The camera swooshes and pans through corridors and out onto the ship’s deck with an incredible amount of fluid motion that is only brought to life even more thanks to the 3D technology at Lee’s disposal.
Unfortunately almost none of that matters when weighing in the effectiveness of the film’s actual story. Pi’s ability to pick up and drop any and all religions without any sort of emotional fallback is troubling, almost laughing at the idea of religion entirely. Setting aside Pi’s religious beliefs and simply looking at it as a story of bravery between a boy and a tiger doesn’t work much either, because of the film’s ending, which without being spoiled can only be described as an implied cop out, plus the splitting of the two characters feels rather sudden and weak.
I’ve never read the book which the film is based on and I don’t think that should be required when reviewing the film, but I’ve been told that it remains fairly faithful, which implies that this is a rooted problem that comes from the source material and not so much Ang Lee’s direction.
Life of Pi is still something worth viewing at least once, because it truly does move the 3D technology and it shows how important of a tool it can be when telling a film’s story, but at the same time the film stands as nothing more to me than a fancy light show, with great cinematography, fluid direction and occasionally a spot of strong acting from both actors portraying Pi. Everything else is hollow and rather lifeless, which is a surprising disappointment considering what Lee’s trying to achieve.
Fox brings the film to Blu-Ray with a near-perfect 1080p video transfer that despite all of its stronger attributes, never looks as good as the theatrical 3D presentation. This 2D-only combo pack looks remarkably clear and almost always stretches out the colors, but it’s just not the same when watching it on a flat 2D set. This film was meant for 3D and even though the 2D transfer is good it feels wrong not watching the film how the director intended.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is full of life, with an enormous amount of activity during the film’s peak crash sequence. Things lighten up as the film shifts focus onto Pi and the tiger, but the always-active ocean constantly keeps its presence known on the rear channels, where waves are crashing, birds are chirping and fish are flopping. This track is perfect from top to bottom, which is something I kind of expected from Fox.
Here’s a list of bonus material found on the disc:
- A Filmmakers Epic Journey (HD): An extensive four-part documentary that documents the entire lengthy production of the film, from the early casting stages all the way up until the post-production special effects. A rather entertaining, yet informative watch.
- A Remarkable Vision (HD): A look at the special effects behind the film.
- Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright (HD): A look at the CGI-created tiger.
- Gallery (HD)
- Storyboards (HD)
- DVD Copy
- Digital Copy
Life of Pi is an amazing achievement for the world of special effects and 3D technology. But does that make for a good film or even a film worthy of so many Oscar nominations/wins? No, not really. Sure, Ang Lee has directed something that is visually stimulating and damn good to look at on Blu-Ray, but the film’s story — which matters most, is nothing more than a hollow mess, focusing too much on the lifeless relationship between the boy and the tiger and not much of anything else. The religious aspect doesn’t quite work and the film’s central characters rarely elevate the material.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
Ang Lee's Life of Pi is a visual masterpiece, often transcending the boundaries of special effects and what they're capable of, but the film's actual story is hollow, lifeless and far from memorable.