Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of Pi - a Movie That Disappoints and Delights

Generally newspaper reviews are my guide to which movie is watchable and which not. And I generally don’t find newspaper reviews misguiding. But this time I refused to agree with them. I watched Life of Pi on Saturday with high expectations and was left a little disappointed.

Pi Patel is growing up in Pondicherry where his father owns a zoo. When Pi is 16, his father decides to migrate to Canada with his family for better business prospects. The zoo animals will be sold there. On their voyage to Canada, their ship, a Japanese liner, finds itself in a storm and sinks leaving Pi’s parents dead and Pi floating on the Pacific on a lifeboat with four animals, a Royal Bengal tiger, hyena, an orangutan and a zebra. The hyena kills the orangutan and zebra and the Bengal tiger slays the hyena becoming the only animal on the boat sharing it with Pi. The story is being narrated, in flashback, years later, by a grown-up Pi to a writer.

The movie is around one-and-half-hours long and what I outlined occupies just 40 to 45 minutes of the movie.

The rest of the movie is about Pi and the tiger negotiating different challenges on the sea in what seems like ceaseless sea wandering. That’s my problem with the movie. Since the time the ship meets with a shipwreck till the time Pi and the tiger make it to an island, there is no story, only some adventures which make for excellent visual experience but fail to prevent you from feeling – great, but where is the story headed. Actually the problem is not with the story; the problem is with how it has been structured. I don’t know how the story pans out in the book and how much of it has been changed for the movie. But the movie doesn’t work beyond the shipwreck until they reach the island.

I think, instead of telling the story in a linear form, starting where it starts and ending where it ends, if the movie had started from the point where the Patel family boards the liner, and then moved the narrative back and forth in time showing their present with brief visits to their past to substantiate their present - then the empty space from the shipwreck to island wouldn’t have stared at you for 45 minutes. And because of the background narration by the grown-up Pi, the back-and-forth style would have worked just fine.

However, to dismiss the entire movie only for those 45 minutes would be cruel. The movie has many delightful moments created with the aid of technology. When Pi is in a caste-away mode floating aimlessly on the ocean, there are some breathtaking scenes – and they leap (thanks to 3D) at you to break the monotony. The scene that particularly stands out is when after a while on the sea, after facing a few hurdles and having overcome them, when Pi seemed set for a hassle-free journey, a huge whale loops up sending Pi’s coracle up in the air on its way up, tossing his stock of tinned food up and then down into the water. The screen blacks out only showing the whale while it's under water and then lights up as the giant leaps out of the surface.

For children, these scenes are breathtaking; they will surely delight adults, but they may want a little more than them out of the film.

The movie is worth a watch and a repeat only for the visual effects and nothing else.

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