Putting Yann Martel’s bestselling 2001 novel Life of Pi on screen seemed an impossible task, but it’s one that director Ang Lee pulls off spectacularly with this awesome adventure tale of shipwreck and survival.
The story’s resilient young hero, Pi Patel, grows up in the Eden-like surroundings of his family’s zoo in Pondicherry, India, where his inquisitive pick-and-mix approach to different religious faiths (Hinduism, Christianity, Islam) baffles his rationalist father.
When Pi is 16, the family decides to leave India for North America, together with all the animals in the zoo. But the ship carrying them is sunk in the middle of the ocean, leaving Pi stranded in a lifeboat with an injured zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena and a fearsome Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Before long, only Pi and the tiger remain…
On the page, Martel’s fable enchanted millions of readers (and the 2002 Booker Prize judges); on screen, Lee’s film matches it for wonder. We really do believe Pi and the tiger are together in that boat – thanks to astonishing CGI wizardry based on reference footage of real tigers and Suraj Sharma’s remarkably convincing performance.
This is far from the movie’s only marvel. Everywhere you look there are images of beguiling beauty: a mirror-like sea reflecting golden clouds; a sudden swarm of flying fish; an island bristling with meerkats; and a breaching whale glowing with bioluminescence as it leaps out of the water.
Deservedly, the film picked up Oscars for cinematography and visual effects in addition to its Academy Awards for Lee’s direction and Mychael Danna’s score. Life of Pi won’t make you believe in God (the claim made in the story’s framing narrative), but it will make you believe in the magic of the cinema.
Life Of Pi is available now on digital platforms and out on 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 29th April
To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.