The concept of a sole character adrift in the ocean for weeks on end perhaps isn't the most instantly appealing pitch for a movie, but when placed in the capable hands of Oscar-winner Ang Lee -- known for past titles such as 'Brokeback Mountain' and 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' - who's latest venture is perhaps his most ambitious attempt yet with 'Life of Pi'. Combine budget (an estimated $120m) and state-of-the-art CGI with an adaptation of the Booker Prize-winning novel by Yann Martel, and you've got the key ingredients for success.
Marketed as a 3D film, and with the intention of a quick critique of said gimmick, 'Life of Pi' works incredibly well, and surprisingly utilises the format impressively. In fact, it's one of the most purposeful uses of the third dimension since 'Avatar', working particularly well during the opening scenes and strikingly so during some latter ones. Lee begins the movie with vibrantly and beautifully composed shots of zoo animals; animals that belong to Pi'sfamily -- specifically his father. For him and his family intend to relocate to Canada by selling their creatures halfway around the world. In order to do so, they must embark on a journey across the seas with a shipping cargo not dissimilar to that of Noah's ark. It's during this time that a catastrophic storm sinks their ship, leaving Pi stranded alone in a life boat. Or so it would seem..
Both cinematography and CGI complement one another wonderfully, as the latter's focus is on Pi's unexpected companion - a tiger named Richard Parker. The pair strike up a volatile, yet dependable relationship that allows a story of survival and religion to unravel. This spiritualism threatens to encumber the film in its early stages, but quickly acts as a motif that can be wholeheartedly acknowledged, taken at face value or simply disregarded, but nonetheless is a theme that clings on throughout.
The duration isn't bogged down with any filler or literary segments that don't translate well, either. Instead, Lee adapts the novel in a conscious manner structurally made clear to the audience, and uses the first half of the movie to tackle some solid exposition that builds up to the most poignant moments of Pi's struggle.
Even after its slow start, the pacing is right thereafter and never once feels like a slug to the finish. What's more, the magical and fantastical account of Pi is perfectly, and rather poignantly contexualised towards its conclusion, serving as a stark reality check at just how grim life can be.
'Life of Pi' is a remarkable piece of cinema that not only looks gorgeous, but possesses a well-balanced, enthralling, engaging and exciting story of hope, resourcefulness and endurance. Suitable for all ages (although some scenes may distress minors), it's got everything required for a strong run at the box office, and is surely due some Oscar nominations come the end of the year, with what is one of the most extraordinary films of the year.
View the trailer for 'Life of Pi' here