Saturday, January 12, 2013

3 Questions about LIFE OF PI

Enviable viewers in Paris

Many people have been looking forward to Life of Pi in 2012, and there were several reasons for them to do so. It's the filmatization of a famous novel that was called "unfilmable" (as was the case with A Clockwork Orange and many others), it marked the return of one of the most acclaimed contemporary film-makers, Ang Lee, whose last success of Brokeback Mountain happened 7 years ago (although I did like Taking Woodstock). And, not to forget, it seemed to fit into one of the most popular genres of the time - that philosophic, "deep" one - while promising to revive a technology-gimmick that has been discussed much lately. 

My primary reason to be excited about Life of Pi was none of these though; it was the Indian factor. Indian background, Indian actors and, as I hoped, Indian soul. All of this despite the fact that Irrfan Khan was again typecast - he's a magnificent actor (although he's offered much more challenging roles in India than in Hollywood), but I'd also like to see someone else for a change. 

Anyhow; I can't say I was disappointed by Life of Pi. After all, what I was hoping for was what I got. Still, I've been asking myself some questions after having watched the film, and this is where I'd like to try and answer them as well as I can.

1: Will Life of Pi revolutionize 3D-cinema?

What I can say for sure already is that the film included some of the most beautiful and breath-taking cinematography that I've seen in the last years. All the imagination and creativity that went into the visual direction of the movie is amazing. And yes, the 3D-technology does underline this and makes the film an even more magical experience for its audience. I don't know whether any of you has ever seen one of those Indian animation films, often centered around religious stories? Well, I haven't seen any either, but parts of them, and they're nothing against many scenes in Life of Pi. There's one particular scene in which Pi looks at a religious comic about Krishna (a blue-skinned incarnation of another God, Vishnu), where Krishna's mother sees the whole universe in her son's mouth. The way the film makes this scene come true is something I've never seen before. The most special way in which the makers shows off their visual skills are the water scenes though. Shots from beneath the surface to the sky, or from the sky through the surface, people seemingly floating in space... that was something I had never seen anywhere before.
When I asked this question, I could also have been asking "Was Life of Pi just as breathtaking (visually) as Avatar, or even better?", and that question I can easily answer with a "Yes". Yes, the film startled me and left me with my mouth open many a time, so it definitely used 3D in the best way possible right now. Revolution is maybe too big a word, but I'm sure Life of Pi will inspire many future films visually - 3D and non-3D.

2: Can Life of Pi be for India what Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was for China?

What I mean is that Crouching Tiger triggered a wide interest in Chinese cinema and actors (well, as wide as it can be for Hollywood), and many or some people watch Chinese movies now from time to time. It's just become more "normal" to watch Chinese or Asian movies. However, by Asian movies I mean films with people that look the way we imagine Asian people look. And that often doesn't include Indians. Indians are just different - actually they often look quite European except for the skin colour, and I've read many books on how the first Indians came to, well, India. 
Many people still think that Indian films are all about kitsch, bright colours, song-and-dance; grand escapist love stories. I haven't even been able to convince my friends of the opposite - because they don't want to see other Indian movies. They really want these grand kitsch epics. And that's kind of okay with me, I would just like to see some more acceptance and at least attention to the new Indian Cinema. Even the old. Because these films are often quite different from the 1990s' and start-of-the-millenium ones. Of course, it's also partly India's fault. The Cannes documentary was - as I hear - just a celebration of that classical Bollywood-image. Not to speak of the complete ignorance towards regional Indian cinema such as Telugu movies, Tamil movies, Marathi movies... Okay, Bengali cinema has been more known due to Sathyajit Ray and some others. But that's really all there is.
Anyhow, I think I should stop my lamenting here and try to answer the question. Well, I don't think that Life of Pi is going to have an immediate and "perfect" impact on the image of India and Indian cinema in our hemisphere. But surely, things are going to change with the time. At least India itself didn't loathe the film as was the case with Slumdog Millionaire (which I personally prefer to Life of Pi).

3: Is Life of Pi award (Oscar) material?

The main reason I'm asking myself this is because the film reminds me of Avatar a lot. Surely, it has a very different message and wasn't as violent as that one, but nevertheless my opinion on it is quite similar: it's breathtaking and inspiring - yet foreseeable. It's visually awesome and has some great use of CGI. It's really entertaining. It has a bonus for being exotic.
Also, Life of Pi is nominated for 11 Oscars, while Avatar was nominated for 9. That's not such a big difference. So it could end up winning only two or three (such as Avatar) from the smaller categories.
My prediction: I'm quite certain it will win Cinematography, but there are some strong contenders in the other categories (especially Visual Effects)... so that's all I can say. I'm not sure whether the Academy is going to honour a film such as this. It's really hit-or-miss, I think... so we'll see. Perhaps today's Golden Globes are going to put things a little more into perspective.

Life of Pi is an enjoyable and inspiring cinematic experience, however I didn't like everything about it. The message was all right, I mean it doesn't force you to believe in God, but I felt it was long-drawn at times. Well, only the future will show whether this is a movie stays in the hearts and minds of the audience.



  1. I really liked the film.
    I think Slumdog Millionaire is more popular. Not in India though, or with me.
    And though it is very deserving of cinematography, I still think what Deakins did with Skyfall was nothing short of extraordinary.

    1. Me too, perhaps it's because I didn't read the book. Well, Life of Pi definitely caused more controversy with the audience than Slumdog, which most people in West Europe and North America loved.
      Still need to see Skyfall!

  2. Unfortunately, Life of Pi was every bit as unfilmable a book as everybody suspected it was. The movie itself was breathtaking in parts, and I'm no 3D fanboy. But the 'message' you're looking for was vague simply because..well, it's just a lot deeper than what the film managed to communicate. I don't see it impacting Indian cinema the way Crouching Tiger did Chinese cinema though- if only because (1) it was just not as entertaining as the latter to inspire any commercial trend-setting, and (2) seriously, just how much of a lasting impact DID Crouching Tiger have?

    1. From what I've heard, I think I should really read the book - everyone agrees that it's better than the movie. I think the movie did communicate an interesting and deep message, but if the book does a better job, I'm really excited to read it.

      About Crouching Tiger... well, of course Chinese cinema hasn't become a natural part of the big film industry, the films that people watch all over the world, but its niche has grown if you can say that. But well, perhaps Life of Pi wasn't really Indian enough, like SDG says.

  3. Yup, I HATE Slumdog. Guilty as charged. :(

    Unfortunately, I didn't like Pi much as well. I read that novel a few years ago and even it didn't impress me much. I think movie did a great job adapting it but since I had problems with the original novel, I remain unconvinced.

    As for the impact it will have in marketing Indian film market, I don't think it will have much influence either. In case of Crouching Tiger, Chinese nature of it was very much inherent in the story. Somehow I don't think that is the case of Pi. In my opinion, story would have worked exactly the same even if Pi was somewhere from Africa or Latin America for example.

    Having said that, I know at least 4 bloggers who had one of their new Year's resolutions as watching more Indian movies. So, I am thinking Indian movies are getting more audience, at least in our own little world. :)

    1. Of course you hate Slumdog, all Indians hate Slumdog ;).
      I understand that you didn't like Life of Pi if you didn't even like the book very much... Anyhow, I thought about your example and you might be right - the movie would probably have worked set in any other "exotic" culture.

      About your last comment: wow, I'm so glad to hear that! Who are those people, I haven't read any of that!

  4. I have a fourth question: Have you read the book? I loved the film for its visual spectacle, the 3D was gorgeous and enhancing in a way similar to Hugo and unlike the awful Avatar, a film so bad that not even its gimmicky 3D could stop me tweeting throughout to stave off boredom. BUT, Pi the film was sadly unsubtle in its handling of the core message, and did try to imposer an answer to the central question, in a way the book did not. I totally agree with icyHighs that what the film achieved most completely was to prove that the book was unfilmable.

    1. Haha, perhaps it did yeah... but nevertheless, it's an interesting production I think.
      To answer the question: no, I haven't read the book, but I'd love to, really.

      Anyway, I'm curious whether one day, a really "great" 3D film will be produced. So far, I've been awed by the visuals of Hugo, Avatar and now Life of Pi (while I've seen some really disappointing 3D films too), and I liked all of these films (guilty for Avatar) but none of them are anywhere near of becoming favourites. They just don't go deep enough for me.

  5. I agree with you here. It was amazing visually, and one of only a handful of 3D films that actually benefited from being in 3D. As a standalone film I'd say it's one of the year's best, but it failed in my opinion, to capture the true essence of the book.

    BTW, have you seen Pina?

    1. From what I've read here, I think I'm fortunate to be reading the book after having seen the film; I don't think I'll be disappointed.
      I haven't seen Pina, no, but I've read a lot about it... it played at our cinema but in 2D so I wasn't sure whether that would be worth it.


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