Life of Pi came from what was declared “an unfilmable novel”, but I don’t read books, I wait for the film to come out and this was one hell of an experience on the big screen, but can it be as much of a stunning experience on the small screen?
Well, obviously, the image you’re watching at home is not going to be as big as a cinema screen would allow – unless you’re watching with a projector set-up. That said, I’m watching it on a 50″ 3D TV and it still beats any 3D film I’ve seen, at the cinema or at home. I wish I could watch it each time on a cinema screen, but that’s not possible, so it’s very pleasing to know that Fox have turned up trumps with a transfer that’s as flawless as you’d demand for a film with such incredible visuals.
All I really knew about Life of Pi before I saw it was that a shipwrecked young lad ends up on a boat with an adult Bengal tiger and lots of weird stuff happens.
Well, to back up a little, Pi’s childhood isn’t an easy one, as he was chrstined “Piscine”, which sounds like “pissing”, especially when the school bullies try to make something out of it, and to retort he shortens it to “Pi” and learns to recount the value of the mathetmatical constant to many decimal places. Then, in 1978, just as he’s starting to discover girls, his parents have decided that life in India isn’t for them, given that Pi’s father is due to start a job in Canada.
However, as we know, the huge container ship will never make its destination because Pi (Suraj Sharma) ends up on seemingly the only lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger which, due to a clerical error, has been named Richard Parker. Hence, while dealing with the fact he has lost his family, he has to contend with not knowing which will end his own life first – thirst or a ravenous carnivore.
So, what follows during the section that we’ve all come to see is some of the most exceptional 3D work you’ll witness in a long time. I was initially concerned I’d sat too close to the front as I’ve chosen to sit directly in front of the ‘Premier’ seats, which are often left empty as they’re priced at a premium and only a step away from conventional seats, and I figured it’d be quiet in the cinema at the last screening on New Year’s Eve. But I was wrong. Half of Manchester also decided to pay a visit. Anyway, my close-up concern was there because a 3D trailer for something else beforehand showed some elements to be unbearably close-up, and there certainly weren’t any more centralised seats further back.
However, when the film began, everything was fine, even when long stick appeared to poke out of the screen, something which in other films has resulted in looking a bit blurry, not just on my home set-up, but in the cinema too, like when I went to see Silent Hill Revelation 3D at the same cinema. Spectacular special effects await you during this section and I don’t want to give any spoilers, so I’ll only make mention of one scene which has been shown on TV countless times and involves flying fish. This is also worth noting as it’s one of a handful of times where, bizarrely, the screen ratio changes.
The film is presented at 1.85:1 for the majority of it, yet, after a fish hits Pi in the face and he throws it back at the tiger, black bars are added to give a 2.35:1 ratio so that when fish start flying about, they appear to occasionally travel over the edge of the screen. Knowing the ratio changed and having an eye for these things – and especially since I knew it was coming – I found it a rather odd change Similarly, I was looking out for a shot which lasts just less than a minute and is in a 1.33:1 (4:3) ratio, an overhead shot also featuring some special effects which I won’t detail here. Again, I’m not quite sure what the point was there. And I’m led to believe that there are some scenes in a slightly wider ratio of 2.00:1, but I didn’t spot these at the time and I wasn’t looking out for them anyway as I wasn’t aware of them until I later checked it on IMDB.
Most Odeon cinemas have a combination of 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 screens and I wanted to see this on the biggest of the former that I could. However, at the time I wanted to go, there was only one screening left of New Year’s Eve (5.40pm) and so it was Hobson’s choice. And it was on one of their 2.35:1 screens (screen 12), which made me sceptical that the flying fish scene would be done justice as I’m always conscious of the screen being so much wider than it is tall and so when that scene comes in, it’ll effectively be windowboxed. This is annoying, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. However, for future films I’ll be looking to see if I can get screen dimensions for all screens at both the Manchester Printworks and Trafford Centre Odeons so I can compare screening times with the screen sizes and choose accordingly if it’s necessary. I did as best as I could with sitting close enough without it being overpowering, however.
Acting-wise, for a major film, the cast is small. Full credit goes to Suraj Sharma as Pi, who will have spent the majority of his time acting to nothing in particular. The only time he’s not onscreen is when we’re in the present with the adult Pi (Irrfan Khan), living in Montreal, Canada, and relating his life story to a writer (Rafe Spall). It’s necessary to have these inserts, but they do come in rather too often early on and I was glad that when we get to what we’ve all come to see, we don’t hear from them for some time. Both of the actors here are fine, but their performances are nothing to write home about, especially Spall’s apparently Canadian accent.
There’s also a brief turn from omnipresent Frenchman Gérard Depardieu as the ship’s cook, but he’s only onscreen long enough to throw a cheap racist jibe at Pi’s mother when she enquires about the vegetarian option.
Overall, I’d certainly recommend this film to any one who wants to see 3D-ness done extraordinarily well, but note that while it has a PG certificate, it’s not really a film for young children as it’s very slow-moving and they’re going to get bored. Someone also brought a baby into the cinema. For fuck’s sake! Why? They just ended up crying at various points and when it was quiet this really ruined the moment.
For all viewers, I should state that while the slow pace suits everything in the boat, this begins at around 35 minutes into the film and lasts for a good 70 minutes, so you get your money’s worth in that respect and director Ang Lee has done an impressive job. However, the build-up to the lifeboat section *does* drag and when a couple walked in and sat down at the 20-minute point, while I feel that cinemas shouldn’t allow people in after it’s started, in this case they really hadn’t missed anything. It’s also slow later on once we get out of the lifeboat and to the final part of the story.
I’ve already explained the quality of the picture on display, and when it comes to the sound that matches it in equal measure. If you have speakers aplenty, you’ll hear the film in DTS 7.1 HD Master Audio, but even though I only have a DTS 5.1 set-up, it’s still as incredible as I remember.
Claps of thunder, the roar of Richard Parker, the flying fish… it’s all here. And it’s all wonderful.
The extras are as follows, and it’s fantastic that some are in 3D (with 2D options), such as the deleted scenes, a type of extra that normally comes in the form of a rough cut, so to get them in their final format here is quite a treat. Note that the 2D extras are included separately on the second Blu-ray disc in the package, along with the 2D version:
- Deleted Scenes (3D) (13:16): Five here, and while most of them serve purely as nice little extras, I’d like to have seen the fourth one, Did I Say Something Wrong?, put back in, showing Pi imitating Richard Parker’s movements and mannerisms, as it’s really quite endearing, as well as featuring a moment that was used in the promotion and trailer for the film.
- VFX Progressions (3D): Two here and both fascinating. The first shows the ship Tsimtsum sinking (12:40), with Pi coming up on deck and realising that it’s not all plain sailing. The clip mixes in ‘plate’ (how it was filmed, often with blue-screen), animation (a small amount of additional information to give an idea of how the final shot will look), final, and pre-vis, showing how they intended it all to look.
The wave tank (2:10) shows how precisely where Suraj Sharma was working. You’d have to have one hell of an imagination to help make the film work and he did that a treat.
- Theatrical Trailer (3D) (2:12): In 16:9, and you can see the 2D version below.
- A Filmmaker’s Epic Journey (63:29): This starts of by comparing the journey to make the film with the journey which Pi undertook in the story, which is a fair comparison to make given how much Ang Lee and co. had to accomplish. It continues with why Fox optioned the novel to make a film and the choice of director. At this point, I’ll be honest and say I haven’t had time to watch the rest but, at an hour long, there’s a lot to take in whilst trying to write a review of the whole package, but I will get to it soon.
- A Remarkable Vision (13:16): The Visual Effects and how they were breaking away from the usual creation of aliens and the like to making art. They had to go for making pre-vis shots for almost the whole of the movie so that they knew what they were looking to accomplish in the finished version. In addition, I didn’t realise that there are some real shots of a hyena (called Harry) in the film, but most of the time the animal is a digital version which is based on the real one. And, of course, there’s a look at the flying fish sequence.
- Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright (8:35): Richard Parker is the masterpiece and this featurette centres around Pi trying to train him. I didn’t know until now that, like with the hyena, there are some shots with a real together in this film. Naturally, they had a tiger trainer working with the animal at that time and not Suraj Sharma.
- Gallery: Over 80 images featured here. I think I counted 83, but I could be slightly out.
- Storyboards: Images for the Zoo Hospital, Ashram, Piscine Molitor, Floating Festival, Cargo Hold, Underwater Fantasy and Mexican Beach.
- Digital copy: Included on the second Blu-ray disc, this is for people who want to watch the film on the move, such as on a mobile phone. I’ve never met anyone who has used one of these and, in particular, this film just NEEDS to be seen on a screen as big as possible.
The menu mixes images from the film with a piece of looped theme music, but they hit you immediately as they appear because they’re in 3D and absolutely luscious. I haven’t seen another disc feature 3D menus before so this was quite something.
There are subtitles in English (for the hard of hearing), Spanish, Castillian, Portuguese, Russian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukranian. And, Fox have given us a decent number of chapters with this disc in a total of 28. I wish all releases did this. Most use 12 which is rubbish.
Running time: 127 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Released: April 29th 2013
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (English only), DD5.1: French and Italian
Languages: English, French and Italian
Subtitles: English and 9 other languages
Widescreen: 1.85:1 (Codex)
Disc Format: 2*BD50
Director: Ang Lee
Producers: Ang Lee, Gil Netter and David Womark
Screenplay: David Magee (based on the novel by Yann Martel)
Music: Mychael Danna
Pi Patel: Suraj Sharma
Adult Pi Patel: Irrfan Khan
Writer: Rafe Spall
Pi Patel (11/12 Years): Ayush Tandon
Pi Patel (5 Years): Gautam Belur
Santosh Patel: Adil Hussain
Gita Patel: Tabu
Ravi Patel (7 Years): Ayan Khan
Ravi Patel (13/14 Years): Mohd Abbas Khaleeli
Ravi Patel (18/19 Years): Vibish Sivakumar
Older Insurance Investigator: James Saito
Younger Insurance Investigator: Jun Naito
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.