When it comes to versatility there’s no director quite like Ang Lee.
If it’s martial arts movies (‘Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’), gay westerns (‘Brokeback Mountain’) or period dramas (‘Sense and Sensibility) you’re after then Ang Lee is your man.
Lee is without doubt one of cinema’s most skilled directors and when it came to translating Yann Martel’s 2001 Booker winning bestseller ‘Life of Pi’ for the cinema he was the only man for the job.
Lee, who once said he thought Martel’s book to be impossible to film, has proved himself wrong - ‘Life of Pi’ is without question the most beautiful and epically wondrous movie of 2012 but unfortunately that’s where it stops and ends. It’s a case of more style than substance.
Martel’s novel tells the story of Pi Patel and he comes to be lost at sea in a small boat with a ferocious Bengal tiger.
Pi (Suraj Sharma) and his family live in India and his father decides to move the family to Canada where it is hoped he will resurrect his career as a zookeeper.
Disaster strikes when the boat taking the family to Canada is destroyed in a storm - the only survivors being Pi and the Bengal tiger.
The film begins with an older Pi (Irrfan Khan) talking to a Canadian writer (Rafe Spall).
Spall’s writer is searching for inspiration and when he hears that Pi has a great story to tell, he can’t help himself but listen. Pi tells the writer that his story might just convince him in the existence of a God.
The most amazing aspect of Lee’s film is the tiger with which Pi shares a boat with is done so using computer generated imagery (C.G.I.).
When I went to see ‘Life of Pi’ I thought that the sheer awfulness of C.G.I. would distract me away from the film’s narrative but I was wrong. The Bengal tiger is so real and menacing that I soon forgot I was watching special effects at its finest.
Another reason why I was impressed with ‘Life of Pi’ was because of the performance of Suraj Sharma.
Sharma’s starring role in ‘Life of Pi’ is his acting debut and when you consider he was one of 3000 people who auditioned for the part makes his performance even more remarkable.
Sharma is from New Delhi and is the son of an economist and a software engineer and had no acting experience before the audition; in fact the only reason he was there was because his younger brother asked him to come along.
What makes ‘Life of Pi’ so aesthetically pleasing is the use of special effects and if you thought Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ was a joy to behold then ‘Life of Pi’ is manna from heaven.
In particular, there’s a scene when the sky above Pi and the Bengal tiger is filled with flying fish - it’s truly beautiful and to appreciate it properly you should make sure you go to the cinema to see it.
There’s also a time when the sea is filled with iridescent jellyfish and it’s like nothing ever witnessed before on the big screen but to say that that equates to labelling ‘Life of Pi’ as a classic is a step too far.
It’s awards season and Lee and his team of special effects experts are in the hunt for Oscars and whilst it wouldn’t be surprising to see a few go their way, it shouldn’t go any further than that.
The film’s ending, which any readers of the book will know all too well about, calls into question the veracity of that has gone before and it’s at this stage that ‘Life of Pi’ feels self-important and dare I say it, a little pretentious.
In terms of appearance and style ‘Life of Pi’ is peerless but the film’s so called lessons are somewhat condescending, fanciful and to a certain extent idealistic.
The cult following created by the book’s success (it has sold more than any other Booker prize winner) is certain to attract a lot of attention but for an audience not familiar with Martel’s work it’ll be case of pretty but dim.
VERDICT: 3/5 - It’s visually stunning but it’s a case of more style than substance. Ang Lee’s versatility is on show again and in terms of special effects it’s a real tour de force but it’s lacking any degree of plausibility which in turns makes it very disappointing. Oscars should follow for the amazing C.G.I. Bengal tiger and other special effects and it’s a film that will divide opinion.