Thursday, January 10, 2013

Movie Review: Life of Pi (2012) -- Overall Rating 3.25 / 5


Starring Suraj Sharma & Irrfan Khan.
Directed by Ang Lee.
Rated PG.

Story: 5 / 5
Direction: 3 / 5
Acting: 3 / 5
Visual: 2 / 5
Overall Rating: 3.25 / 5
Explanation of rating categories appears at the bottom of each review posting.

[The following is taken from an original blog post where I spend most of my time ranting about my hate of 3D. Some edits have been made and some additional material added to fit the format used on this site.]

Life of Pi tells the story of Pi, a young man who survives the sinking of a cargo ship carrying his family and their zoo animals en route to their new home in North America. If you’ve seen the trailers you know there’s a tiger in the life raft with him, and maybe you even said “That’s crazy! That *bleep*ing tiger would eat that kid in like five seconds.” Have faith, the film is about so much more than that.

What will people think of cinematic version of Life of Pi in twenty years, heck maybe even ten? With any luck they'll think "It's too bad that movie wasn't made by serious filmmakers. It's such a great story!"


The reality in 2012 is that the movie was made by Ang Lee, who used to be a very serious filmmaker, known for his clever visual style. For reasons known only to him, and the Hollywood executives who funded this project, he chose to make this a 3D movie. On some level I assume he thought it would give a more fantastical feel to Pi's story, and maybe even enhance it. The problem is that the underlying story is so incredible and timeless, that this movie could survive the decades ahead, but this passing fad of 3D entertainment dooms it to a future at the bottom of the DVD bin, an unusual high concept work from a silly era of filmmaking.

It’s rare for me to love a concept so much, but be so thoroughly disappointed in its execution. It's exactly the opposite of Beasts of the Southern Wild. In that film I loved every single thing about it except the story. In Life of Pi I was so in love with the story but frustrated by the way it was filmed.

I'm being overly dramatic. Everything except the visuals in Life of Pi is brilliant. The acting is fantastic, and other than the awkward 3D crap, which looks simply baffling in 2D, and some very inappropriate use of CGI, it's still a great film. Nearing the end it leaves you hanging, wondering what the entire point of it was, but with a single line the entire thing comes together. "And so it goes with God."

That's not a spoiler. You'll totally forget I even said that until after the line is said and with any luck you'll be too busy enjoying the film to go "Oh crap, he did mention that line". And if you don’t understand it, or if you don’t agree with me on how brilliant the story is, then you’ve not at all understood it, and probably need a second viewing with Wikipedia at the ready.

Would I recommend this film? Definitely. Try not to be put off by the 3D stuff if you end up seeing it in standard presentation or on DVD.


Explanation of Ratings

All ratings are on a 5 point scale where 1 is the lowest possible score. A score of 3 indicates the film was simply effective in this regard. A score of 5 indicates perfection in a given category. The overall rating is a simple average of the four scores.

  • Story -- How well the film was written? Did the story make sense? Were there plot holes? Was the dialogue natural for the style/genre?
  • Direction -- How well was the film put together? Did all of the elements come together properly? How was the pacing? Was the tone consistent and effective? A subcategory of this would be editing, but for the purpose of these reviews it is combined into one category.
  • Acting -- How good were the performances? In a drama did the lead actor/actress draw the audience in? In a comedy where the performers funny? This is an amalgam score of all the performances in the piece. A single great performance can elevate the entire score, but a bunch of bad performances can just as easily bring it down.
  • Visual -- How did the film look? If there were visual effects were they used appropriately and did they look good? Did the overall look enhance the telling of the story?

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