Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, is one of my favorite books. With my love for tigers, it caught my eye back in 2001 as I was wondering a bookstore and the blue cover with a contrasting orange tiger caught my eye. When I heard that Life of Pi was getting a movie adaptation I was extremely excited and had high expectations for Ang Lee to do the book justice. Seeing the movie today I would say that the movie is visually stunning, I love Richard Parker the tiger, but I do feel that the story does fall a bit flat when compared to the book. The comparison may be unfair as film has to present in an alternate format; by itself the movie is wonderful but with biases and preconceptions of what I loved and what I wanted to see the movie did not work as well for me.
One major point that did not work well for me was the flow of time presented in the movie. Pi spent 227 days lost at sea and Pi retelling the story happened over the span of a few days. In the film, the retelling of the story all took place within one day which already made the story feel shorter instead of a long gruesome suffering that Pi had to endure. While towards the beginning it was shown Pi marking notches on the side of the lifeboat to record days, the continuation was not shown so without reading the book the audience would not have known that Pi was lost at sea for over 7 months. Instead it felt like it was merely two or three. While in the book, Pi kept all his food and water but had ended up eating them all, which helped signify how long he was lost, the movie simply had him lose his stores of food and water. It also did not help that in the film the lifeboat looked pristine and white for the most part and was only noticeably aged at the end when Pi finally finds land and drags the lifeboat ashore. It is understandable that a lot has to be cut out for the film due to the audience wouldn't want to watch uneventful days with mundane occurrences, a lot of it was internal monologue in the book, but the pace of the movie with events happening right after each other made the flow somewhat too fast. There were many days when Pi cycled between having a bountiful harvest of food to days when there was no water nor food and was starving but that effect did not come through at all in the film. The film did well with composition in showing the solitude of Pi though with many repeated shots of a small boat in a vast seascape.
An important theme in the book is spirituality. Spirituality, not religion. Through the naivety and innocence of a young boy, the book goes more in depth of Pi finding God in Hinduism, Muslim, and Christianity. Pi sees faith, love, honor, and respect in all three religions and confounds the leaders of the religions in Pondicherry when questions why he was not allowed to just love God. While lost at sea, Pi keeps up his practice of loving God. He has a set routine and he prays and meditates for a significant portion of his days. It would have been nice to seen some of that devotion in the movie but for the most part it was reduced to Pi shouting to God during a storm.
The book was additionally more violent than the movie. Originally the hyena was already in the lifeboat and later on Pi figured that the officers on the ship threw him onto the lifeboat in order to distract the hyena instead of the film showing someone already on the boat and the officers attempting to save Pi.
The zebra suffered a lot more and longer in the book. The zebra still had a broken leg but later on the hyena tore it off and ate it. The zebra was still alive and the book describes the missing limb as a "bloody stump with a flap of skin covering over it". Not satisfied with just killing off the zebra and letting it be eaten, later on the hyena tore open the underside of the zebra, stuck its head in and started eating the zebra alive from the inside out. That would be extremely traumatizing to any children in the audience but it does well in describing the predicament of Pi and the loss of innocence.
An event that was cut out from the movie, which was reasonable for it would have been confusing to do, was when Pi went blind and met a French castaway who was also blind and starving. In the end as the French man tried to kill Pi, Richard Parker came out from under the tarpaulin and ate the French man. The event was significant in increasing the fantastical aspect and wonder at Pi's story for the odds of meeting another blind man drifting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean might be about zero, but it happened. While I would have liked the event to be included in the film with the banter of the two characters, showing a black screen for an extended period would not work well in theaters.
While it differed slightly in the film, I was glad that Pi's alternate story was included. The alternate story with no animals was what really made me love the book at the end for it brings up the issue of relative truths. Both stories do not explain how the boat sunk and both stories end up with Pi's family dying and Pi being lost at sea. Neither can be proven, and neither consequences matter, so why does it matter other than which one is the better story. To Pi, the first story may be the actual truth but the Japanese men who came to interview him would not believe him and wanted a story that they would be able to believe in the confines of what they know of the world. I was slightly disappointed that the interaction was cut short though for the interview actually went on for a long time with Pi disproving the notion of facts that the Japanese men had. In the book, for the most part, Pi was very calm during his interview and only became agitated when the Japanese men would not believe his story. However, in the film, with the second version of the story, Pi was crying with the retelling which made the original story seem more like a protection of his psyche by trying to suppress the events that happened with substitution. I'm not sure if this is better or worse but I do like the first story better.
The visual effects used throughout the movie were quite stunning. Two companies that I know of that worked on the film were Rhythm and Hues and The Motion Picture Company. When Pi killed the dorado, the flashing of colors was subtle but apparent and beautiful. The animals were well done but what I loved the most was the water. Both under and above were stunning to look at. Under the water had magnificent swirls as waves crashed on top, the scene of the sunken ship, and a beautiful luminescence. Above water there were the gigantic crashing waves and the still surface mirroring the sky. The effects worked well in helping progress the storytelling and the big showoff with the whale glowing and jumping out of the ocean was written in well to have a cause and effect instead of a simple showcase. The event with the whale was well done and integrated nicely which I was pleasantly surprised about since I knew that the occurrence never happened in the book.
I loved the lighting in the film. The luminescence blue underwater and the golden lights in a few shots were beautiful. While subtle, the lighting helped direct the storytelling and inspired hope in addition to the darker bleakness of Pi's predicament. Then ending with the jungle so desaturated instead of a lush green was somewhat strange but possibly acceptable. While Pi had finally found land, which should be a joyous occasion, Richard Parker had entered the jungle and left Pi without a farewell and so Pi would possibly see the jungle as a source of his sorrow.
I haven't gone to see a live action movie in the theaters in a long time so I finally got to see some different trailers than the ones they put in front of animated films. While it's still an animated film, the one that stood out to me is Epic. By Blue Sky it is about a girl who shrinks and goes on an adventure with Leafmen. The humanoid plants look good and well designed, but mainly I'm glad to see that Blue Sky is finally doing something other than the Ice Age series.
Movie good, book better. Watch the movie, read the book.