Life of Pi


Features, Film, Review | by — December 17, 2012

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Directed by Ang Lee
In UK Cinemas from December 20, 2012

by Louise Mothersole

Life of Pi is a new film directed by Ang Lee based on the award-winning and best-selling novel by Yann Martel.  Shot in 3D, the film is lush, colourful and imaginatively shot.  Due to both the magical nature of the story and the impossibility of filming an actor on a row-boat alongside wild, dangerous animals, the film makes the most of an extensive use of CGI.  Whilst the effect is visually stunning now, I do wonder if the computer generated imagery will date the film in the long run.  CGI effects so rarely stand the test of time, becoming outdated quickly as technology advances.  Hopefully the world created, in this case, is rich and unique enough to hold its own aesthetically as special effects march ever onward.

As ever when I have read – and loved – the book before seeing the film, I was concerned that I would not be able to fully enjoy Life of Pi.  I need not have worried; the film had me completely entertained from beginning to end.  The film is surprisingly true to the book which, unfortunately, gives it an almost preachy feel on occasion; some tones simply don’t translate from novel to film, but I think it was the braver and right choice to try to maintain the tone of the book, even if it creates an odd tension at times (especially when coupled with the, frankly, saccharine music by Mychael Danna).

There were only a couple of genuine divergences from the novel, most notable of which was the addition of an incongruous ten-minute love interest that I am sure wasn’t in Martel’s book.  I do not know whether Ang Lee was bending to Hollywood convention or not.  Perhaps his aim was to make the title character of Pi Patel more relatable to a Western audience; the character is very spiritual, a trait which some may find alienating.

The film is not perfect, but it is an enjoyable and often emotional ride and looks beautiful.  Every scene with Bengal tiger, Richard Parker, is captivating.  Solid performances from the cast.  There is a nice Gérard Depardieu cameo, Irrfan Khan is good as usual, and Rafe Spall manages well with the particularly tricky part of the Writer.  The young Pi Patels are adorable.  Newcomer Suraj Sharma, in the title role, is a joy to watch and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future.

I managed to talk with Ang Lee, Suraj Sharma and Rafe Spall on the red carpet of the UK premiere of Life of Pi.



If we are to believe there are two versions of the story, one part of the exciting, animal-filled version isn’t explained: And that is the carnivorous island with the meerkats. What is your personal theory on what that could be, if we’re to believe the other story?
For a movie, I don’t run a church or a temple [chuckle]. As long as you’re watching a movie, you follow it if you’re inside a movie that’s working. I think the things that we cannot prove that come from our fantasy or imagination… or just simply our need to believe… it’s something, not nothing, if not more important than the things that are tangible. I think that’s very important.

When did you first read the book?
Shortly after the book came out somebody introduced it to me. I enjoyed reading it. I introduced it to my wife and my kids, and we talked about it. But I never thought it was movie material.

What changed your mind?
Somebody asked me to do it [laughs]. And offered the money. And I start thinking ‘How do you crack this thing?‘ And… and then I thought of 3D; maybe a new film language, maybe that extra dimension would open things up. And I, of course, I did my travel to India and I gradually, step by step, I got hooked.


What were the biggest challenges for you and what drew you to working with Ang Lee?
Ang Lee drew me to working with Ang Lee [laughs]. […] He’s such a human being, you know, and really inspiring […] Well I’d never done any (films) before. The whole thing is just one big challenge I guess. In many ways I felt like Pi was this random kid, kind of, thrown out into the ocean, and a bunch of challenges to face and you just have to dig into this packet to survive.

I hear that you didn’t originally audition for the film, that you accompanied your brother. Has he forgiven you yet?
He’s been really good about the whole thing, you know. He knows he’s the better actor, so…  [chuckle]

Obviously a lot of the film is CGI. It must be really hard reacting –
To nothing.

– To nothing. How was that?
You see you’re not reacting to nothing because there are four tigers you’re watching every day for hours and hours, you know, you get an idea how they move, react to stuff; the water, the boat, the movement. And you’re not reacting to nothing ’cause you have, like, the lines’ direction, and that’s really not nothing. That is very real, it creates an atmosphere around you, and it’s very hard to get out. You know, once you’re in, it’s hard to get out. So it becomes very real. Very – very very real process.

What was it like making your first big movie with Ang Lee, of all people?
Awesome? I can’t- I don’t know how to put it. It was- it was great. You know I honestly wouldn’t even have dared to dream something like that.

Are you going to keep on acting, do you think?
I don’t know. I mean it depends if people like my acting, I guess, I will… hopefully.


[On how he got the role as the Writer, last minute]
I got a phonecall saying he was gonna speak to me about ‘Life of Pi’. I was like ‘Whaaat?’ […] and then I got a phonecall saying ‘You’re gonna have a skype chat with Ang Lee’. That was a little bit hairy, especially with the ten second delay.  And then I had a chat with him, he told me the story of the film.  And then he said he wanted me to make a tape, I made a tape, and he saw it.  Then I found out he was gonna fly to London to come and see me; I went and met him at the Convent Garden Hotel at 2’o’clock and we had a nice chat and he offered me the job and here I am!

Did you know the story?
Yeah yeah. I’d not read the book- I have now. Yeah.

If you were on a deserted island what three things would you take with you?
If I were deserted on a desert island… My wife, and two children.

Most of your scenes are with Irrfan khan; what’s he like to work with?
Irrfan Khan is one of the greatest actors I’ve ever worked with in my life. And I can say that I’m not just saying that. That guy’s got something deep that other actors haven’t got. He’s got a huuuge depth of emotion in him, that he lets it out and it’s just extraordinary. He’s a brilliant actor.


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