Life of Pi: All I really knew about this film 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.
Running time: 127 minutes
Released: December 20th 2012
Widescreen: 1.85:1, 1.33:1 (some scenes), 2.00:1 (some scenes), 2.35:1 (one scene) (ARRIRAW (2.8K) (dual-strip 3-D))
Viewed at: Odeon Cinema, Manchester Printworks
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.