Life of Pi (2012)

Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Ayush Tandon, Gautam Belur, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Gerard Depardieu

Directed by: Ang Lee

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Tiger Richard Parker and Pi (Suraj Sharma) in Life of Pi

Remember that film Cast Away? Over two hours of Tom Hanks stuck on a desert island? Sounded really boring but was actually incredibly moving and engrossing? Now imagine that remade with an Indian boy stuck on a lifeboat. With a Bengal tiger. Grrreat!

And yet, annoyingly, I didn't find it quite as great as I'd hoped.

Pi (named not for the mathematical symbol but the Piscine Molitor in Paris) has grown up in his family's zoo in French Pondicherry, India. His life there is rich, colourful, steeped in a melting pot of religions, thoughtful, exotic. But disaster strikes when his family are forced to relocate the zoo to Canada, and their ship sinks in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

And so (a fair way into the film I might add) begins Pi's battle for survival in the face of storms, sharks, dehydration, starvation, sunstroke and, of course, being eaten alive by Richard Parker, aka the amazingly realistic CGI tiger.

Pi (Suraj Sharma) is all at sea in Life of Pi

The critics have raved about Ang Lee's sumptuous imagining of Yann Martell's Booker Prize winning novel; so much so that I was even lured into forking out the extra few quid to see the 3D version. And that's probably where I went wrong. Certainly the 3D technology is flawless – by far the best since Avatar – but there's something about watching a film whilst wearing dark glasses that distances me from the action and dissipates the magic. The crystal sharp 3D images somehow seem to add an extra layer of artifice that, while fitting the film's theme of fantasy vs. reality and the fine line between the two, places it too definitively on the former side, highlighting the contrivance of the (albeit jaw-dropping) CGI effects and making the whole thing too much of a fairy story and not enough of a nail-biting life and death struggle in the face of overwhelmingly awful odds.

Richard Parker the tiger in Life of Pi

Don't get me wrong, Life of Pi is a delightful film: it looks marvellous, each screen alive with opulent detail and colour, and the performances are strong, particularly from newcomer Suraj Sharma, who plays the teenaged Pi. But the star of the show is undoubtedly Richard Parker, in all his whiskery, furry, fanged, clawed and not remotely cuddly glory. He certainly doesn't think he's in a fairy story as he snarls, claws, growls, prowls and devours.

All in all, I liked the film, I just didn't love it as I'd expected to, as I love other magical adventure stories such as Up! and The Fall. A gorgeous adaption that must be seen on the big screen, Life of Pi is a triumph of style and technological wizardry, but somehow, for me, it lacked the immediacy, simplicity and moving magic of the book. It dazzled my senses, but it didn't quite reach my heart.

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