Academy award winning director Ang Lee is known for having an unusual filmography. He has delved into disparate film genres, directing such movies as “Hulk”, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, and “Brokeback Mountain” (the latter of which earned him a Best Director Oscar).
Lee’s latest outing is a film adaptation of author Yann Martel’s stellar 2001 bestseller, “Life of Pi”. Garnering critical praise early on coming out of numerous film festivals, Lee’s interpretation of Martel’s novel has set expectations extraordinarily high for its wide release on November 21.
Time magazine proclaims “Life of Pi” to be “The next Avatar”, due in part to its visceral inclusion of 3D. I was given the immense honor to view a special early screening of the film in a New York theater in a special session for New York University (NYU) students and I also partook in a Q&A session with Ang Lee afterwards.
I had been doubtful that the movie could live up to the colossal hype, but was floored by the final result. Visually astounding, well-adapted, emotionally resonant and suitably innovative, Ang Lee may have crafted his greatest film yet.
The most notable aspect of Lee’s filmmaking style this time around is his inclusion of cutting-edge 3D technology, which never feels like a gimmick or a tack-on.
Like “Avatar”, the 3D effects in “Life of Pi” are executed purposefully in tangent with the overall style and narrative of the tale. There are countless astonishingly rendered natural vistas throughout the film. So many in fact, that at times, I felt as though as I was watching an incredibly immersive, large screen rendition of “Planet Earth.”
This is by no means a criticism, on the contrary, the effect of these sections contribute to the powerful message about the sublime essence of nature, a theme central to “Life of Pi”.
‘Life of Pi’ 3-D effects
A jaw-dropping scene in the film captures the protagonist, Pi, floating underwater watching from afar as a cargo ship sinks into the depths of the Marianna Trench.
In the Q&A session, Lee explained that this was the very first shot he envisioned when he began working on the film nearly four years ago, elaborating that with the added use of 3D, Pi would appear to be, in essence, floating above the audience in the theater. Lee elucidates that this dreamlike illusion creates both an “over the shoulder shot” and a “point of view shot”, because we feel as though we are Pi, looking onwards as the massive ship disappears into crushing darkness.
The story covers three separate times throughout Pi’s life. All three actors playing Pi are outstanding. Suraj Sharma is particularly deserving of praise, seeing as the 17-year-old from New Delhi has never acted before in his life. Furthermore, Sharma had to learn to swim for the part, seeing as the majority of the film is set in the middle of the ocean. Lee looked at thousands of candidates all over India in search of the perfect actor for the role, and he succeeded. As the only human on view for half of the film, Sharma commands an impressive screen presence that hardened acting veterans would kill for.
“Life of Pi” is a groundbreaking film that has something to offer for every moviegoer, young or old. It has philosophical and intellectual depth to spare, while offering a visually stunning, coming-of-age tale that is accessible to all. Regardless of your preconceptions about 3D filmmaking, or expectations regarding Yann Martel’s novel, Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” will not disappoint.