Pete Wassell keeps on rolling with his review of this year’s Best Picture nominees.
Life of Pi: I must say, of all the Best Picture nominees this is the one I wanted to see the least, and it had nothing to do with the director, Ang Lee. Brokeback Mountain? Sense and Sensibility? Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? What’s not to love? I remember seeing Crouching Tiger in a crowded theatre in the heart of Hollywood—every seat was taken!—and they gave it a rousing, whooping and cheering standing ovation! The guy makes great films! Movies that are undeniably picturesque and epic in scope. He’s acknowledged as one of the finest actor’s directors we’ve ever had around these parts, a master of detailed portraiture, and he uses it to enliven his characters. A profoundly considered mis-en-scene is the palpable center in his stories, and it always adds intricacy to his films’ protagonists.
The reason I wasn’t chomping at the bit to see Life of Pi is the source material.
Life of Pi, the novel by Yann Martel, is a giant metaphor that slaps you in the face. It’s about a young man, Pi, named after the mathematical constant that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. He’s involved in a high seas shipwreck and sets out on a journey in a lifeboat he shares with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The book is good, but a bit obvious, and I’d been told that the end of the movie is like a big did-you-get it!?-in-case-you-missed-it-here’s-what-we-were-trying-to-say! type of moment.
Well, let me put it this way: The nay-sayers are not right. To put it more succinctly, they’re wrong! This is an amazing achievement, to have taken this material and render it with such loving care and depth. First off, it’s visually stunning, in 3D, and it’s unquestionably the best usage of 3D so far. The overall production design is nothing short of beautiful. And the story itself comes across as reflective but intensely engaging. It’s an active and compelling contemplation of the essence of life and its meaning, the kind of thing we rarely ever get in a Hollywood movie, and in this movie it works.
It’s astounding to me that a film of such emotional and spiritual density would also be so technologically advanced.
Another thing: this movie has both an ocean and animals in it—not just a tiger, although the tiger gets the lion’s share of footage. Listen to this: Every movie ever made that has scenes on the ocean OR multiple scenes with animals goes over schedule and over budget. Every time! It’s practically a law of nature. (Think Jaws.) Yet this movie has BOTH ocean AND animals, and Ang Lee managed to bring it in on time and under budget. A singular feat in and of itself. And in 3D, no less!
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know the scenes with the tiger are extraordinary and memorable. Yet it was recounted in The Hollywood Reporter that some 86% of the tiger shots are CGI, with only 23 shots of a real tiger in the whole movie. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I read that. To me, it looked like 100% of the tiger shots were of a real tiger. I found myself wondering how they got that big roaring cat to do those things.
And on top of it all, the movie has become a world-wide hit, returning a tidy profit to its investors.
So take my word for it. It’s one of those films you have to see in a theatre. Don’t wait for it to come out on Blu-Ray. It’s Ang Lee, for Pete’s sake! It’s well worth your time and dime.
And now, if you don’t mind…a PS on Michael Haneke, whose Amour was reviewed here recently.
I just wanted to say I haven’t seen a lot of Haneke’s work, but the people who love him stand by him. A friend of mine went to see a screening of Caché (Hidden), one of Haneke’s previous films, featuring Juliette Binoche, which had a Q&A afterwards. He told me it was the best Q&A he’s ever been to, full of insight and honesty. After seeing Amour, I wish I’d been at that Q&A. In the past, I’ve found Haneke to be very brooding and at times achingly slow. Though I like to shy away from the “slow” criticism, truth is some people just don’t know how to pace a film. Caché is a brilliant piece of voyeuristic horror, but is meant to be slow and thus is very challenging at times. I wouldn’t exactly apply that to Amour, but you can see the same hand at work here.
Stay tuned for Pete’s last review of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture. Zero Dark 30 is last in the line-up. Soon!