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Capone says Ang Lee's LIFE OF PI is a great adventure, an exploration of faith, and a celebration of oral storytelling!!!

Published at: Nov. 22, 2012, 2:51 p.m. CST by Capone

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

The art of telling a story orally is a dying one, but those who can do it well (Ira Glass, David Sedaris, the late Spaulding Gray, and the list goes on...but not that far) are some of my personal heroes simply because they keep the tradition alive. I don't know if the novel LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel is fashioned in a similar sense, but the film version from director Ang Lee (THE ICE STROM, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, BROKEBACK MOUNTAINh) and screenwriter David Magee (FINDING NEVERLAND) is a celebration of passing an oral history from one person to another. It's also a transformative visual display, the likes of which I haven't seen in many years, combining the realistic and the surreal to the point where looking at the image of a young man trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger often resembles a painting featuring colors that appear invented for just the movie. Life of Pi also happens to be one of the fines works done in 3-D that I have ever viewed.

The setup is important. The story being told here is actually actively being relayed from Pi Patel (played as an adult by the great Indian actor Iffran Khan) to a writer played by Rafe Spall, who I believe is something of a stand-in for the author. He is telling his remarkable account of his youth leading up to the horrific events that left him stranded in the middle of the ocean with a hungry Bengal tiger. Young Pi (newcomer Suraj Sharma) is a boy ahead of his time. He's curious about religion, so he studies many of them, eventually adapting a hybrid version of spirituality and a belief that the temple of God lies in one's self and not in any one faith or organized group. He and his family live in and maintain a zoo, and when they decide to relocate nations, dad decides to bring the animals with them.

LIFE OF PI is a PG-rated affair, but there's plenty here to scare the more sensitive little ones, starting with a horrific storm that capsizes the ship on which the family is traveling, leaving Pi stranded on a boat with a few wounded animals. The shipwreck sequence is harrowing and one of the scariest things I've ever seen. As you likely already know and for reasons you can probably guess, the lifeboat's population is reduced to boy and tiger, although in all honesty, the boy spends most of his time on an adjacent, connected raft he built from salvaged scraps of the ship.

What's wonderful is the way Pi "trains" the tiger to not want to eat him -- not an easy task. It's both an exercise in patience, and some of the most seamless special effects you'll likely see this year. Using a mixture of real and CG animals, the interaction between Pi and the tiger (named Richard Parker) is hard to fathom. Although Pi and Richard Parker don't exactly become cuddle buddies, they do come to something of an understanding about Pi not being the tiger's dinner.

Some people I know who have read the book have told me that the sequence where Pi and Richard Parker land on an island swarming with meerkats is brutally dull, but in the movie, it's a fairly brief vignette with a mystifying and spooky closing moment. Near the end of the film, an alternative version of the events on the ocean is given that some are bothered by because they think it's unnecessary over-explanation, but I think younger viewers may get the most out of these discussions, and it might be the easier way to convey the message of faith that seems central to LIFE OF PI. It's certainly not pandering, and as much as I found the metaphor option unnecessary, it didn't ruin the rest of the movie for me. It's there for younger audience members and dummies (sometimes dummies make it into movies; it's a fact).

LIFE OF PI is simply too beautiful a film and too captivating a story to dismiss because of a questionable ending. And while I'm never in favor of turning off your brain in order to enjoy a movie, it does sometimes help if you don't overthink certain offerings. This is a film that made me believe in the impossible, and yes, maybe even a little in God's magic powers. And I'll say this again, if you don't see this in 3-D, you aren't really experiencing it; it's critical and necessary.

-- Steve Prokopy
"Capone"
capone@aintitcool.com
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