Life of Pi follows the trials and tribulations of young Pi Patel as he is shipwrecked at sea with only a tiger for company. The epic tale won the Man Booker Prize back in 2002 and saw author Yann Martel propelled to worldwide fame.
What Martel created in Life of Pi was so much more than a story of shipwreck, of being lost at sea. The son of a zookeeper, Pi has been around animals his entire life. He understands them better than most and must battle not just the elements, the fear of starvation and everything that being stranded at sea would normally entail. Pi must also face off a Bengal tiger by the name of Richard Parker that could kill him in a split second.
Stuck for seemingly endless days at sea in an apparently hopeless situation, Pi's daily struggle is both a physical and emotional one - laden with such intensity that the story becomes completely immersive for the reader. The detail of the battle between human and animal, between what lies within the boat and what lies outside of it, is intoxicating and captivating. Pi's battle is with himself and watching him give in to his animal instincts is fascinating and horrifying all at the same time.
The main focus of the story is of course what happens at sea. Given that most of the story is spent out in the ocean, turning Life of Pi into a film might have seemed too big an ask for many directors. Ang Lee, however, decided to bravely take on the project and the end result is something to behold.
For the film adaptation, Lee found a total unknown actor to play young Pi Patel. Suraj Sharma puts in a performance more seasoned actors would struggle to accomplish, capturing both the innocence of the religious teenage boy and the strength and desperation of a boy alone at sea. Audiences feel his every emotion: his loss, his hope, his stupidity and his bravery. It is both heartbreaking and intoxicating.
In Irrfan Khan - who plays Pi grown up - Lee has found a man who can reveal such deep emotion with merely a glance, an inflection or the slightest hint of a smile that he needs no spectacle to get his story across. Stunning as the scenes at sea are, many viewers will find themselves just as gripped by his story and the way he tells it. Khan is a superb storyteller and conveys the truth behind Martel's story gracefully and respectfully.
With these two central performances sorted, it was up to Lee to figure out how to put the epic tale on the big screen. The use of 3D really allows audiences the opportunity to fully enter Pi's world. With this extra dimension added, viewers are sure to both cower in fear and marvel in awe at all that Pi witnesses on his journey.
Martel's book was groundbreaking. It is a truly unique piece of writing that blends action adventure, religion and emotion in a way no other story has managed. It is hard to read at parts though, with great detail given to just what Pi has to do in order to survive - details that some readers may find too much to bear. It's the book's greatest strength and weakness that audiences may not fully know what to expect. You go in thinking it's a story about a boy in a boat with a tiger and then the kid starts talking about religion and the beauty of life in India. It's jarring and unsettling and for me, if I hadn't been told to power through it, I may well have given up in that first section. Had I done so I would have missed out on so much. At the same time, the greatest way to experience the story itself is to go in knowing as little as possible. It is the kind of story that stays with you long after the book has been closed but you have to have a little faith that it is worth sticking it out to the end.
With Lee's adaptation, something magical happens. Though none of the horror of Pi's story is forgotten, certain details are left off screen, making it just that little bit more palatable. Enough of his story is explained that audiences fully understand what he has had to endure - so the feel of the book is not lost - but every graphic detail is not required to enforce the point.
Lee has so flawlessly managed to capture the imagination of Martel's book that it really doesn't matter if the film is seen before or after reading it. Both versions convey the full extent of Pi's struggle, the tumultuous but entirely necessary relationship between him and Richard Parker and the heartbreaking duality of both the majesty and torture that comes with a life stranded at sea. In choosing a stunningly talented cast and by adding the extra dimension of 3D to the film, Lee has proven himself one of the greatest directors of modern cinema. Life of Pi is a visual spectacle but never loses its heart and emotion.
They said Martel's book couldn't be adapted. They were wrong.Life of Pi must be seen to be believed and seen to be experienced. Most of all, though, it must be seen in 3D and on the big screen to really get the full effect. It is a master class in adaptations - a true masterpiece in cinema.
Book: 4.5/5 FOBLES
Film: 5/5 FOBLES