12/19/2012 15:41 | By Ed Holden, editor, MSN Movies

Life Of Pi review

Ang Lee didn’t think that taking on Yann Martel’s award-winning novel was a good idea at first. Luckily for us, he couldn’t resist the challenge.

4 stars - Life Of Pi (© Twentieth Century Fox)

Released: 21 December 2012
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain
Director: Ang Lee
Certificate: PG

What’s the story? Pi is the only survivor when his ship from India to Canada sinks in the Pacific. He is left afloat with an unlikely companion, the Bengal tiger he calls Richard Parker, to embark on an incredible quest for survival.

What did we think? Life Of Pi has just enough pace not to plod and just enough humour not to be worthy or preachy. Ang Lee has done justice to the novel, driving home its philosophical questions, delivering stunning visuals and, most remarkably, managing to be fun.

There was so much potential for Life Of Pi to be bad. It’s a 3D survival movie starring an unknown teenager and a CGI tiger that aims to raise questions about the nature of god. Stumbling blocks abound.

Credit Ang Lee for taking a very faithful approach to Yann Martel’s source material. “I stayed with the characters at all times,” the Brokeback Mountain director tells us and he’s very intimate with them, allowing the camera to linger on Suraj Sharma extensively. “ He just looked like Pi to me,” Lee has said of the 16-year-old he discovered among hundreds of auditions.

Yes, Life Of Pi is long at 127 minutes. But Lee’s patience pays off in the strength and depth of the character. On the whole, it’s a gentle giant of a movie. Repeated scenes of Pi and Richard Parker learning to co-exist at sea give us the sense of being at the theatre.

You’ll grow very fond of them both. And dustings of humour, easy to come by in such an absurd situation, carry us along nicely. As we drive towards the bigger questions and the lines of reality blur, Lee is able to escalate, delivering grand and epic where once we had close character portrayal. The 3D and ambitious CGI really come into their own in the later chapters.

Is it a potential Oscar winner? Absolutely. An ambitious yet genteel take on a successful cross-cultural novel sounds right up The Academy’s street. We'll hear more from it.

4 stars

Magnificent. It wasn’t ‘unfilmable’ after all.

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