An obvious wannabe paean to the power of literal and visual storytelling, Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is assuredly a mixed bag, following one Pi Patel as he recalls the defining experience of his adolescence to a young writer looking for his next big story. For the uninformed, the film is essentially a dramatic retelling of said experience, more specifically the tragic outcome of Pi and his family’s fateful immigration attempt overseas from India to escape looming financial instability. With Pi stranded out to sea in a lifeboat with nothing but meager rations of food and water, not to mention a ferocious Bengal tiger named Richard Parker, the young man must muster up enough divine will and resourcefulness to stay alive amid the catastrophic circumstances.
For as all-encompassing Life of Pi tries to be, I couldn’t help but find it plain and mostly uninteresting from a thematic standpoint, failing to connect with the varying philosophical, moreover spiritual undertones it parades around wholeheartedly. Personal beliefs aside, the film doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary with the source material’s commentary in this regard, forcing it to instead ride the coattails of the story at its core and the emotional weight it may (or may not) carry in relation to the tragedy Pi has succumbed to.
Regardless of how easily you’ll gravitate toward Pi’s continuing life-threatening hardships and his questioning of God’s motives, all the production truly has going for it are its unparalleled visuals, of which have been the primary selling point throughout its marketing campaign. Even still, breathtaking CGI-riddled compositions, and dreamlike, color-drenched seascapes are sporadically rendered naught as requisite scenes detailing Pi’s struggle to coexist with his bloodthirsty feline companion fail to hold any prolonged significance. Granted, they’re a major component of Yann Martel’s source novel, however one can’t help but wonder how effective that material even is in relation to the lukewarm spectacle director Lee’s provided us with.
Barring Suraj Sharma’s above average debut performance, Life of Pi ultimately carries with it too little soulful weight in relation to its big-budget, often mesmerizing aesthetic. Its mainstream appeal does become very apparent however, unsubtly embracing the thematic substance audiences have frequently adored throughout fare similar to this, but all things considered, young Pi’s trials and tribulations left me checking my watch and yawning in unison more often than not. Failing to reel me in in nearly every aspect outside of its overbearing visual prowess, Life of Pi becomes hard to recommend.