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Non-Review Review: Life of Pi

Life of Pi is visually stunning. It is an amazing accomplishment. I’ll be the first to admit that I am skeptical of 3D, but in the hands of the right director – Martin Scorsese, James Cameron and, now, Ang Lee – it is a fascinating storytelling tool. The computer-generated imagery is magical, as are the compositions and scene transitions. There’s no doubt that Ang Lee is a superb craftsman. Indeed, the visual majesty of the film is enough to make you dismiss some of the lighter narrative elements, accepting some of the incongruities as expressions of “magical realism” or simply a function of allegorical storytelling. It’s not the densest, or the most insightful, story you will see, but it’s well-told.

Unfortunately, then you reach the end, and Life of Pi tries to get considerably smarter than it actually is. It pulls a clumsy narrative trick that leaves the audience feeling a bit disoriented and more than a little manipulated. Life of Pi finds itself torn between trying to be a beautiful allegorical story of survival and a deeper commentary on the stories that we tell. Forcing one undermines the other. While Life of Pi might convince you that a boy and a tiger can share a lifeboat, the two competing aspects of Life of Pi sink the story.

Not quite a glowing recommendation...

Not quite a glowing recommendation…

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Life of Pi Trailer

I’m fairly lukewarm on Ang Lee. When he’s great, he’s amazing – one of the most visually arresting directors working in the medium. However, sometimes I find some fo his work (Brokeback Mountain, The Ice Storm) to be a little self-indulgent. Still, Lee has a wonderful flexibility and a willingness to work outside his comfort zone that is hard not to admire. The trailer for Life of Pi first appeared on-line yesterday, and it looks pretty amazing from a visual standpoint. Adapted from the iconic and acclaimed novel, the film looks to have a wonderfully hypersaturated feel to it. In fact, the final shot looks like something from a classic Walt Disney film brough to life.

I’m calling it now. Unless it turns out to be completely abysmal, we have a Best Picture front-runner.