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Allen Adams Allen Adams
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Life of Pi' more style than substance

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Film visually stunning, somewhat lacking in story

For many years, when a novel was referred to as 'unfilmable,' movie studios accepted it as such and more or less ignored it. Recently, however, it seems that Hollywood has taken that unfilmable label and viewed it as almost a dare.

The latest accepted challenge is 'Life of Pi,' based on Yann Martel's 2001 novel of the same name. The fantasy novel was adapted for the screen by David Magee ('Finding Neverland') and directed by Ang Lee ('Taking Woodstock').

A Canadian writer (Rafe Spall, 'Prometheus') has shown up at the door of an Indian man named Piscene Molitor Patel (Irrfan Khan, 'The Amazing Spider-Man'). An old acquaintance of Patel's has told the writer that Piscene (known by the nickname of 'Pi') has an amazing story to tell, a story unlike any the writer has ever heard before a story that will confirm the existence of God.

In his youth in India, young Pi finds himself fascinated with religion, incorporating elements of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam into his own spirituality. His family owns and operates a zoo. A day comes, however, when Pi's father is presented with an opportunity in Canada. So it is decided that the Patel family will pack up their belongings including the zoo's many animals (to be sold in North America) and make their way across the Pacific.

However, the Japanese freighter on which they have booked passage experiences an unknown and catastrophic failure and sinks to the bottom of the sea. Pi (played at this age by Suraj Sharma in his U.S. film debut) finds himself trapped all alone on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific all alone save the zoo's Bengal tiger (which is incongruously named Richard Parker).

Pi and the tiger are forced to coexist in the tiny world of the lifeboat, surrounded by a flat, empty and endless expanse of water. Pi battles for survival against both his unpredictable shipmate and the elements themselves. As time passes, the two settle into an uneasy truce as Pi strives to find a way to relate to Richard Parker in order for them both to survive their ordeal.

Any discussion of this movie has to begin with the look of the thing. 'Life of Pi' is one of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. The combination of 3D filming methods and CGI technology has never been this effective; there are dozens of unbelievably striking screen pictures scattered throughout the film. The transitions between reality and CGI particularly those involving the tiger are as seamless as I've ever seen. The bright vibrancy of color and shade is beautiful to see.

However, the simple truth is that as lovely as the film is to look at, there's not a whole lot that actually happens. While these stunning moments are abundant, a large part of the movie is spent watching a boat that never really goes anywhere. Much like the film itself, unfortunately.

Don't get me wrong; Lee has painted a masterful picture. And the performances the passionate energy of Sharma and the subtle sadness of Khan in particular are quite strong. However, the story simply doesn't lend itself to this sort of telling which is kind of funny, considering how important the nature of story is to the proceedings.

'Life of Pi' is beautifully rendered with some fine performances. There's plenty to like. Unfortunately, this novel deemed by many to be 'unfilmable' ultimately proves to at least partially earn that distinction.

3.5 out of 5

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