Thursday, November 29, 2012

OSCAR WATCH: Life Of Pi


One of the greatest cinematic experiences you'll have this year is Ang Lee's gorgeous new film "Life of Pi". The film tells the story of a young Indian boy Pi Patel who finds himself stranded on a boat with a tiger, following a disastrous shipwreck. With the loss of his entire family (they were heading for Canada along with zoo animals for sale), he must find the courage to survive both his ocean environment and the potential danger from his animal companion.
As the film starts, it is clear that it will explore the power of religion and faith. As a very young boy, Pi is inquisitive about all forms of religion, choosing to follow Christianity, Hinduism and Islam all at once. As the adult Pi recalls this childhood, we look at the world through his eyes. This first part of the film is all exposition and it feels quite slow. As he constantly relates all his experiences to its religious significance, it can also get a little preachy. As you get into the meaty part of the film though, it's clear that all of this setup had a purpose. The meaty part of course is the shipwreck and Pi's subsequent adventure. Ang Lee takes us on a spiritual journey as Pi must use all his strength, wit and faith to overcome hunger, dehydration or simply being eaten by his tiger named Richard Parker. As expected, this proves to be quite a harrowing experience as he faces all forms of adversity. As in his childhood days, he calls on God for guidance and hope during his predicament. Pi's story is quite amazing but somehow, it lacks the strong emotional power as suggested by the film's advertising. There just seems to be something missing in the finer details of the script. When compared with other survival films, there really isn't that pervading sense of destitution during his adventure at sea. Again, I blame the heavy religious sentiment for lessening the story's impact. For example, as adult Pi begins to tell his story in the beginning of the film, he already forecasts that "this story will make you believe in God". As a result, the viewer is given a sense of comfort that prevents you from fully feeling Pi's struggle.
What it lacks in writing quality, it more than makes up for in visual splendour. The entire journey is a feast for the eyes, as Ang Lee incorporates 3D for a truly artful effect. It really immerses you into Pi's world as you get a fuller sense of distance, scale and movement. Visually, it rivals anything that James Cameron has done. If this is the way 3D is heading, then I really can't complain.
While the middle portion of the film isn't as stirring as it could have been, the ending really hits home. Irrfan Khan (Adult Pi) and Suraj Sharma (Young Pi), really showcase the depth of their acting abilities with a finale that touches the heart and wraps up the story quite nicely. Their sense of loss and heartache is very affecting.

"Life of Pi" will surely be a major contender in various categories at the Oscars. Firstly, I'm willing to bet that this film will win Best Visual Effects. It's quite amazing to watch an effects-heavy film and not notice the difference between the CGI and the actual tangible elements. The special effects work on the film really merits recognition with this award. Further enhancing the visual experience is the spectacular cinematography. Claudio Miranda (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, TRON: Legacy) really outdoes himself with his use of dazzling colours, reflections and interesting perspectives. He will surely be a contender for Best Cinematography come awards time. Of course, the effectiveness of all this visual panache is largely due to the vision of Ang Lee. This is truly a "director's film" and he will certainly be in the discussion for the Best Director prize.
One thing I failed to highlight earlier was the film's aural quality. Particularly the music, which is so effortlessly incorporated into the film that it almost feels like it should be the natural sounds of the environment. This atmospheric music is so subtle and unobtrusive that I wonder if it will be ignored by Oscar voters. It's deserving of some attention though, so a nomination for Best Original Score is possible. As you may have gathered from my review, I found the screenplay to be "up-and-down" in terms of quality (it may actually be due to weak editing and pacing though) but when it does hit its marks, it really soars. The overall narrative and story is so compelling, I can't imagine it being ignored for a Best Adapted Screenplay nod. For a story that was thought to be unfilmable, the resulting film is quite an achievement. As a result, "Life of Pi" is surely a shoo-in for the most important Oscar nomination of them all - Best Picture.

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