Author Yann Martel’s tale of a shipwrecked youth cast adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is one of those lyrical, internalized novels that should have no business working on the screen. Quite possibly, it wouldn’t have worked if anyone but Ang Lee had adapted it.
Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) has crafted one of the finest entries in his eclectic resume with this gorgeous, ruminative film that is soulfully, provocatively entertaining. The filmmaker combines a lifetime of storytelling finesse with arguably the most artful use of digital 3-D technology yet seen to bring Martel’s story to life.
It’s a delicate narrative with visceral impact, told with an innovative style that’s beguiling to watch and a philosophical voice that
compassionately explores how and why we tell stories.
Newcomer Suraj Sharma stars as Pi, an Indian teen lost at sea with the ravenous big cat from his family’s menagerie. This could be a one-note story — please Mister Tiger, don’t eat me. Yet Lee finds rich and clever ways to translate even Pi’s stillest moments, the film unfolding through intricate flashbacks, whimsical voice-overs, harrowing sea hazards and exquisite flashes of fantasy and hallucination.
The computer-animated tiger is remarkably lifelike, seamlessly blended into the live action. And as in Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, Lee’s 3-D images are tantalizing and immersive, pulling viewers deeper into Pi’s world so that the illusion of depth becomes essential to the story.