I saw Life of Pi this morning as the focus of a brief school outing - one of my favourite outings ever, up there with seeing The Hunger Games earlier this year. The film is about a boy called Piscine "Pi" Patel. Whilst on a Japanese ship sailing to Canada with his family and a host of zoo animals to sell in Canada the ship sinks during a massive storm, stranding Pi on a lifeboat for 227 days with only a Bengal tiger known as "Richard Parker" for company.
Now, I must first comment that I was duped with the trip and we did not see Life of Pi in 3D, which is a true shame. The draw of the film for me was the visual aspect of it; it is a beautiful film, with extravagant landscapes and a spectacular, always changing ocean. The subtle opening sequence, with its abundance of the many different species at the zoo, is among my favourite title sequences ever. The animals have a life-like quality to them, and I couldn't bear to even think about tearing my eyes away from the screen. When the ship sinks there is an odd, majestic sort of quality to it - as Pi stared in horror onscreen, I stared in wonder from in the audience.
I truly regret being unable to see the film in 3D, because it's obvious even in the 2D version that this film is meant for the additional dimension. These are visual effects at their finest, and scenes like the one early on when Richard Parker leaps out from the tarp and into the screen are breathtaking even in simple 2D. The sinking of the ship was truly a sight to behold, and the storms threw hooks into my arms and pulled me in with them. There wasn't a single scene in this film that failed to be breathtaking, which was made all the more fantastic by the knowledge that most of it was digitally animated. The closest thing I could describe this film to is Avatar from 2009: the story is somewhat lacking and the acting might leave you wanting, but it has a lush, beautifully animated and breathing world for you to lose yourself in. That's are far as I will compare the two, however, because everything else is too different.
The tiger, Richard Parker, was brilliantly done, to the point where there were times in the film that I was forced to remind myself he wasn't actually a real tiger. As I stated before, the animals were also a joy. They were all extremely life-like, and I hope that more films come that can successfully animate a film like this one.
However, visuals can only carry a movie so far, and I found the restof the film to be lacking. While the soundtrack certainly fit each scene it was used in, I cannot recall any of them. It fails to stand out like the soundtracks of films such as Inception or Pirates of the Caribbean, instead sounding rather generic. The acting also left something to be desired - while the boy on the boat is superb, everyone else feels as if they have been thrown in there for the sole purpose of having more than one human being in the film. The writer feels emotionally distant rather than curious, and the father is made out as a brutish businessman - but he lacks the bite to be like that. My next complaint is how several scenes in the film played out - several dramatic scenes were so goofy I actually laughed out loud, and over half of the theatre was laughing too. This movie isn't meant to be laughed at, but we laughed nonetheless.
Maybe I'm just immature.
While I wish that more films would take the care and focus on the visual side like Life of Pi, I wonder if it's really necessary. Yes, this film is a beauty to behold, but so was Avatar. Must these breathtaking visuals always come at the cost of characters, plot, and even music? I don't want that. Characters alone are extremely important to me, and I believe in having my attention captured by every character onscreen. Filmmakers need to learn balance when it comes to visual masterpieces such as Life of Pi. All this time it has been touted as such - a "visual masterpiece", and never was the story or anything else given the spotlight for more than a few brief seconds. This needs to change, and until it does, I'm content to remain with films, even those with animated settings, that fail to reach this bar visually.
Because of that, despite my visual love for the film, I'm scoring it 80%.
**As a note, I wrote half this review the day of, on the 18th, but had to leave and only just came back to it - that is the reason for some contradictory statements regarding time in the review**
Stay tuned for a Django Unchained review later today, and then a special film related entry today or tomorrow.