Life of Pi – Review

life of pi

Life of Pi (2012) 8.5stars

Director: Ang Lee. Cast: Suraj SharmaIrrfan KhanAyush TandonGautam BelurRafe SpallGérard Depardieu 

Having read the original book several years ago (in fact, to be precise, I remember listening to its unabridged audiobook version) when I learnt that a movie adaptation was going to be made, my instant (and rather predictable) reaction was “How on earth are they going to pull that off?”.  If you, like me, have read the Pulitzer Prize winning story, you’ll understanding my doubts and share my initial skepticism: it wasn’t just the way it was written, through a continuous series of sketchy flashbacks and very internal (and sometimes rather abstract) dialogues, but mainly because, for the greater part, it featured a boy and a tiger stuck on a raft in the middle of the sea.

But as you can tell from my 8 and 1/2 star rating at the top of this review, the answer is right there on the screen: they did pull it off! In fact I liked the film so much that it’s become one of my favourite of the year and possibly my best bet for the forthcoming Oscars.

Yes, of course there were a few annoying little things here and there which prevented it from being a true masterpiece, but whist these things in any other film would have caused me to hate it, in Life of Pi the good stuff is actually SO GOOD that I am willing to forgive any other possible weakness.

Let’s start from the beginning, in fact from the very-long-beginning: yes, the film does take its time to get started and even though the first 30/40 minutes are still perfectly watchable, entertaining, charming and beautifully shot, I couldn’t help feeling that it was all a bit too loose in. The film heavily relies on voice over joining a series of slightly patchy sequences, alternating each other as the several subplots unravel (including a rather redundant – at least in the movie – love story). Interestingly the character of the cook played by Gerard Depardieu, who should have been more developed, is reduced a nothing more than a little 2-dimentional caricature…

Let’s face it, Life of Pi really starts with the sinking of the ship, which happens about 40 minutes into the film. I wonder how many people in telling their friends what the film is about, will actually mention anything that happens before this sequence.

Now I must confess, after James Cameron‘s Titanic I never thought I would ever be amazed at the sight of any ship sinking in any movie. Well, I was obviously wrong!

This scene is absolutely gripping, beautifully executed and visually stunning: in fact generally speaking the film is a constant feast for the eye throughout, but it’s from the moment Pi Patel finds himself shipwrecked that the real magic begins! Yes, Magical is the only word that comes to mind in describing the film. A succession of one amazing sequence after another showcasing some of the most advanced special effect ever seen. The cinematography is a true work of wonder with its striking palette of colours, its magical painterly feel and of course the most astonishing CGI work seen since Avatar, which makes the crouching tiger in the film (sorry, I couldn’t resist the pun) not just a real visual wonder but a totally convincing character. So much so that I wasn’t even sure it was actually computer-generated until I saw a documentary afterwards.

The use of the 3D technology is also some of the best I’ve ever seen, in fact possibly THE best 3D of any movie I’ve seen. It’s clear that director Ang Lee and his cinematographer Claudio Miranda really understand how to use this new technology and have great fun not just at playing with it (changing the aspect ratio of the screen and throwing things at the audience), but also using that extra 3rd dimension to add something to the story: the sequence taking the audience into Pi’s diary is just one of the many beautiful examples of how 3D is used to add a feel that normal 2D wouldn’t be able to convey.

As you’re watching Pi’s adventures, his struggle to survive and his relationship with the tiger, you know you are watching an instant classic. This is one of those films which will work on different people in many different ways: kids will get something out of it, adults something different, religious people will find enlightenment, non-believers will still find quite a lot to enjoy (However be prepared if you’re taking your kid along for some fairly strong scenes involving animals eating each others). I’m sure in years to come people will still watch this movie.

The core of the film is framed by a “let-me-tell-you-a-story” type of device, in which an older Pi recounts his memories to a writer. This is probably the clunkiest part of the film and ultimately it’s what lets it down. For a start knowing that Pi has survived his odyssey works slightly against the tension the film is trying to build throughout the perilous journey: it’s  as if Cast Away had started from the end. It also spells out aloud the message of the film killing all those subtleties from the book (the worst offender is a scene towards the end where the true nature of the journey is revealed through some nasty explanatory dialogue). It’s really nothing to do with the actors playing older Pi and the writerIrrfan Khan is as always impeccable and brings a gravitas and sweetness to the part (reminiscent of his wonderful character in the stellar third season of “In Treatment”). The writer himself is a bit of a bland character, a proof of the fact that he’s a functional character and nothing more than that: he’s supposed to bring nothing to the table aside from asking the right questions, tell us the meaning of what we’ve just heard  and give a reason to older Pi to tell his story. It’s interesting to know that Toby Maguire had been cast for this part and was later replaced because he was allegedly stealing the scene.

When the twist finally comes at the end, it is delivered by an astonishing Suraj Sharma (a kid with no acting experience who would truly deserve an Oscar): it is spectacularly moving monologue that leaves the audience slightly bewildered, possibly disappointed at first but with hindsight, looking back at it, there is no denying, it is a powerful story, beautifully gratifying, meaningful and profound… and of course an incredible technical achievement.

I can’t wait for my kid to grow up a bit so that one day I could show it to him.

8.5/10

Prometheus – Review

Prometheus (2012) – 

Director: Ridley Scott. Starring: Noomi RapaceMichael FassbenderCharlize TheronIdris ElbaGuy PearceLogan Marshall-GreenSean HarrisRafe SpallEmun Elliott.

After 33 years, Prometheus has finally landed!

For any fan out there (including me) the hype surrounding this film has been almost unbearable to cope with, as the viral marketing campaign was one of the most intriguing and well thought-out of the last decade, matching even the one for the Avengers in its intensity and capacity to tease, without giving away too much.

For months and months we’ve been spoon-fed little tiny bits of information about the mysteriously titled Prometheus. All we knew is that it was possibly a prequel (or at least it had some connections) to 1979’s masterpieces Alien and it would probably answer some of those open questions which have been left hanging ever since.

We had all reasons to be excited, especially when you think that Ridley Scott is the director who essentially single-handedly redefined this sci-fi genre (not just with Alien, but with Blade Runner as well): this is his first return sci-fi in 30 years and the first Alien film since the disappointing Alien Resurrection back in 1997 (no, I’m not even counting those AVP movies, and nor should you!).

Needless to say when the expectations are so high, the questions are so many and the fans are so eager, disappointment is inevitable. No film will ever be able to satisfy a 33 years old hunger. And it’s a shame, because Prometheus is actually not a bad film, it’s just not as ground-breaking as we all hoped and it’s a victim of its own hype. It is also best enjoyed if you know very little about it, so if you haven’t seen it, do stop reading now!

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

Its promising start, in a typically Ridley Scott ‘s fashion,is rather moody and slow it takes at least an hour for the first “shock”, but it’s also some of the best part. Scott plays with his audience creating a certain feeling of deja-vu while still trying to add new elements to the mix: it’s comfortable and intriguing at the same time. Simple and complex. Meaningful and trashy. And inevitably, we are constantly trying to figure out how does it all fit in the Alien mythology until the very last scene, which is rather gratuitous and yet incredibly satisfying for any fans of Alien (and also hinting at some possible sequels).

Unfortunately what starts out as a thoughtful take on Darwinians versus theologists will soon turn into a more conventional monster movie and that feeling of deja-vu will become its undoing.

In a way some of the beauty of the original Alien was its bare simplicity and its minimal approach. Tension was coming from those long silences and those sudden burst of violence and horror. Scott seems almost afraid of that simplicity here, and opts for a much larger canvas: everything on Prometheus is on a grander scale, from its themes and questions about the origin of mankind, to its great vistas (He even gets down to quote David Lean’ Lawrence Of Arabia in a non-very subtle way) and the epic music (which I found absolutely dreadful. Has Ridley Scott really sold out to conventional Hollywood smaltzy intrusive soundtrack during every single scene ?!). It’s all enhanced by being on 3D. This for once works very well when filming those great landscapes but it’s not as effective when trying to create tension in those crammed familiar corridors and instead of adding an extra dimension  to where danger could be coming from, it just becomes rather forgettable. It can’t even be a funny cheap gimmick (I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I would have loved a face-hugger coming towards camera, and the audience).

Everything else here is then crammed with details which instead of making the film more interesting, inevitably distance it from its original predecessor. For example where is all that technology coming from? In Alien they seemed to have very simple computers, and techno-gear in general. And yet that film was supposed to be later in the future, wasn’t it? Oh well, I’m picking needles here.

I know the constant comparison with Alien is unfair, but ultimately it is also unavoidable as it is also the film’s main hook on people.

Don’t take me wrong, there are some great things about Prometheus which I really liked, but unfortunately it just doesn’t deliver on all its promises and it ends up being rather derivative sci-fi.

I loved its ambitiousness, Noomi Rapace, David the Robot (Possibly the film’s best creation), the spotless special effects, the  cinematography and look of it and some of the idea it’s playing with, but I did missed that sense of fear and dread that Alien still gives me every time I watch it. There were very few surprises throughout  and most crucially very little tension (especially considering the film it’s trying to emulate, which is the KING of tension) and after a while it saddened me to see it switching on auto-pilot and becoming rather conventional and feeling very rushed in the last part.

There were too many undeveloped, two-dimensional, bland characters populating the film (even Charlize Theron, who I usually love, could have easily been written out and it would not have made any difference) and in the end it all contributed to make me emotionally detached from it all.

It’s almost as if Ridley Scott could not decide which film he wanted to tell: a sci-fi about the beginning to the universe, his own version of 2001, a monster movie, an Alien prequel… I guess in the end there is something for everyone (except pregnant women, who should stay WELL AWAY from this as the most gruesome and most memorable scene has an intensity which they will not be able to take). In fact there is a lot to digest in just one viewing (I wonder if there might even be an extended cut which will probably surface on Blu-ray in a year or so), but ultimately this is a handsomely film for any sci-fi lover (and an intriguing appetizer for any Alien fan) and it’s a film with ideas more than just loud bangs and explosions.

7.5/10

RECENT ADDITION from the 8th of June 2012

All the recent negative reactions to Ridley Scott’s Prometheus say more about the counter-productive effect of a marketing campaign which was just too big and eventually just imploded on itself, than it says about the actual film.

The expectations were just too high, and the hunger for it too big.

The film was supposed to answer questions which have been hanging for 33 years since the first Alien was first released. And of course Ridley Scott was the man who single-handedly redefined the sci-fi genre (not just with Alien, but with Blade Runner as well) and this was his first return to space in 3 decades.

Disappointment was inevitable and the film became a victim of its own hype.

On the first viewing very few people judged it for its own merits, while everyone else (including me) compared it to a film which had been made in a time when there was nothing like that.

Prometheus may not be the prequel fans wanted (not quite sure what that would have been anyway), it may not be as ground-breaking as some had hoped, but it’s not a bad film…

I do wonder… if Prometheus had been directed by some unknown newcomer or had it not been trumpeted by endless trailers and teasers, would we have been able to judge it differently? Interestingly, critical reaction to the first Alien was initially pretty negative too. Famously Time Out called it an “empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery cannot disguise imaginative poverty”

Should the marketing campaign have been handled differently? Probably not. The box office speaks pretty clearly and at the end of the day in Hollywood money talks louder than a few disappointed reviewers and bloggers. In fact, not one, but sequels are already in the pipeline.

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