Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Ocean of Life

Life of Pi       Final Cut Score: 89%

For something that was supposedly "unfilmable", Life of Pi looks pretty darn smashing on the big screen. Stunning. Astounding. Jaw-dropping. Feel free to add your pick of adjectives that equates to "awesome".

Serving up 2012's single most awe-inspiring stanza of cinema, Ang Lee's Life of Pi is a thing of beauty – a gorgeously presented piece of art. But while those 20 minutes - give or take - are breathtaking, the film suffers from a stall out soon after, lessening the boat ride's bewitchment factor.

Lee's adaptation of the 2001 bestselling novel is the tale of Piscine "Pi" Patel, a boy set adrift on a boat with a Bengal tiger tagging along for the ride. Told through Pi's recounting of the improbable events to a prospective biographer, we cast off in India and wash ashore in Mexico, with a whole lotta Pacific Ocean in the middle.

Roughly 40 minutes in, it arrives – one of the most eye-popping sequences ever filmed, unleashed in the full splendor of a video View-Master: The Titanic-esque sinking of the freighter ferrying Pi and his family overseas. From above the water's surface to beneath it, Lee's 3D vision of the disaster is staggering, sharks swim about as a crush of terra firma-tethered creatures jump ship, all while the vessel begins its journey to the depths below. It's astonishing filmmaking.

The film remains dazzlingly alive as Pi hops in a lifeboat with a menagerie of beasts and their odyssey across the sea begins in earnest. Whether it be allegorical or not - that's left to your interpretation - Life of Pi's bestial battle for survival on board builds on Lee's sublime slice of cinematic glory.

And then we are left stranded with a boy and his ferocious feline companion awaiting rescue. And awaiting rescue. And awaiting rescue. Yes, this is the aforementioned stall out, though the strength of what proceeds it keeps Life of Pi afloat – it would take an all-encompassing collapse to destroy Lee's masterpiece of a middle.

After Oscar nominations for Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and his Oscar win for Brokeback Mountain, Lee proves to be fearless yet again when it comes to tackling book-to-film adaptations. And while there's no question the Taiwanese maestro's delivers a master class in directing, what exists outside Life of Pi's electrifying centerpiece is oddly emotionally adrift.

As such, Life of Pi will go down as a visual spectacle but can't quite complete the voyage to all-time epic territory.