Life of Pi (PG) 127 mins ★★★★★
Those who have read it will be asking how a story about a boy and a tiger stranded at sea could be brought to the screen, and those who haven't may be wondering how such a tale could be worth two hours at the movies.
Happily, Yann Martel's bestselling novel has been appropriated by masterful director Ang Lee, whose varied career (Crouching Tiger, Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility) proves he can turn his hand to anything. He conducts a cacophony of colour, magical-realist cinematography and inspired casting (this is a star-free zone, with newcomer Suraj Sharma, who only accompanied his brother to the audition on the promise of a free lunch, simply remarkable in his first acting role).
The story is told in flashback by Irrfan Khan's older Pi, who describes his idyllic upbringing in Pondicherry, "the French Riviera of India", to a Canadian writer (the excellently understated Rafe Spall). Named Piscine by swimming pool-loving parents, his French name causes him ribbing at school, so he embraces his passion for maths and shortens it to Pi. When Pi's family travels by boat from India for a new life in Canada, a terrifying storm thwarts their plans, and Pi ends up castaway on a lifeboat with some zoo animals.
Crazy, no? If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, rest assured I didn't think it was to my taste either. However, Lee's masterstroke is tossing us gently into the warm blue waters of the movie before we have a chance to register disbelief or aversion to what turns into an utterly enthralling fantastical tale.
The rich colours, magnificent rendering of light and a Golden Globe-nominated soundtrack by Mychael Danna are enhanced by the 3-D (which is not at all gratuitous for once), yet it is Pi's burgeoning relationship with a tiger called Richard Parker that provides the enormous beating heart of the movie. Pi is all at sea, emotionally and literally, for most of the film's running time, but Lee has succeeded in crafting a Castaway to rival Tom Hanks and his basketball.
Positing life's big questions, Life of Pi will provoke individual responses, while taking you on a journey which is a feast for your eyes and nourishment for your soul.
- Sunday Star Times