Even the most hardened of naysayers are admitting that Ang Lee seems to have broken the back of the anti-3D argument with his adaptation of Life of Pi. Certainly there’s no doubt that Lee’s latest offering is a stunningly beautiful visual triumph, but does it put the 3D argument to bed, and is that old chestnut even Life of Pi’s most polarising, contentious aspect?
Pi’s story is related by his older self (Irfan Khan) to a Canadian writer played by Rafe Spall. Born Piscine Molitor Patel, the young Piscine adopts the moniker Pi to escape the taunts of his classmates who – in true schoolboy fashion – refer to him as Pissing Patel. Pi lives with his family at the Pondicherry municipal zoo, home to the town’s exotic collection of assorted beasts, including a Bengal tiger incongruously named Richard Parker.
Aside from the zoo, Pi’s formative years are dominated by his interest in – and devotion to – religion, all sorts of religion. His polytheistic Hindu roots are complimented and complicated by a fascination with different belief systems; he worships his Hindu gods as superheroes but is fascinated by the self-sacrifice of Christ and ritual of Islam. As a Catholic-Hindu, Pi states he has the drolly humbling ability to be “guilty before hundreds of gods”. Pi’s religious fervour is: welcomed by his mother, highly amusing to his brother, and a bone of contention with his cantankerous sceptic of a father.
When their money starts to dry up, the family is forced to up-sticks to Canada taking their entire menagerie with them, but their ship is caught in a storm leaving Pi adrift on a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, an orang-utan and Richard Parker for company.
The story of Pi’s 227 days lost at sea is beautifully realised by Lee who conjures up whales, shoals of fish, and a frighteningly realistic tiger with aplomb. Pi’s magical and treacherous mingle with Richard Parker is all the most exhilarating and dangerous as the tiger itself is so astonishingly brought to life.
Lee has clearly thought long and hard about the composition of every frame, and he isn’t afraid of taking his camera to unusual spots to ensure that the odyssey is breathtakingly realised. On a number of occasions Lee thrills by shooting the little lifeboat from beneath and or playing with the audience’s sense of depth perception by erasing the dividing-line between the sea and sky. In one astonishing moment Pi’s raft appears to float on a twinkling ocean of stars.
So is this magnificence a result of Ang Lee’s use of 3D technology, or is it a result of his native artistic flair and eye for splendour? Well, it would take nothing less than a direct comparison between the 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional formats, but this is the same man who delivered the elegant set-piece action of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. My instincts tell me Life of Pi would be no less stunning without the visual enhancement.
Life of Pi has also been heralded as a great discourse on faith, a parable in which the hero – already familiar with Christ and Allah – only truly meets God through his own voyage of discovery. The middle-aged Pi touts his tale as one which will make you “believe in God”, but is that so? Certainly Pi’s journey is a remarkable tale of perseverance and human endurance but its ability to stand as an affirmation of the presence of the divine may not ring true to those who do not already bring their own belief to the party.
Life of Pi is a spellbinding story, beautifully visualised. I’m not convinced it will make you believe in God, but it will certainly make you believe in Ang Lee.