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Review: Life of Pi - One Boy, Three Religions - Believable?

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Based on the story about a Indian boy stranded on a boat with a Bengal Tiger, Yann Martel's 2001 hugely popular book Life of Pi has sold over seven million copies worldwide. As with the majority of popular novels, Hollywood eyed a film version. However for a hugely descriptive book that involves the majority of action taking place in a boat, with a young boy and a tiger, this book was swiftly described as 'un-filmable'.

Since when does a book that is described as impossible to film, stop Hollywood from pushing ahead with a $120 million dollar adaptation? So enter M. Night Shyamalan, born in the same town as the protagonist Pi and director of visionary film The Sixth Sense, it seemed like fate, and just as described in the book which explores faith and spirituality, everything seemed to fit right into place. However Shyalmalan decided to pass on the Life of Pi and instead opted to direct The Lady in the Water. So again, just like the basic ethos of the book, it appears that everything happens for a reason, because judging Shyamalan's form of late, if he did take the helm of this film I fear early skeptics may have been proved correct, because whether the director has the finesse and grace to tackle such an adaptation is without question - debatable. So after a number of other directors passed up the opportunity to direct this film, such as Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien Resurrection), the task eventually was bestowed upon Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon director Ang Lee with David Magee (Finding Neverland) penning the script.

Life of Pi is told in flashback by an older Pi played superbly by Irrfan Khan (The Amazing Spiderman) as he explains the story of his incredible adventures to a writer played by English actor Rafe Spall (Prometheus). The younger Pi is played by newcomer Suraj Sharma in his first acting role but he doesn't let it show. Sharma plays the young Pi with a certain authenticity that makes him look like a seasoned veteran. Spall and Khan have great chemistry as an older Pi sits back and tells the eager writer about his travels as a young boy. Overall the film has a feeling of great anticipation and wonder as you start to go on the journey of Pi's life, and as a viewer you feel just as intrigued as the writer to find out all about this man's travels. This has to be credited to such an honest and endearing script by Magee.

When Life of Pi was released in 2001, it's no wonder it was described as 'un-filmable' and perhaps but for the advancement in special effects in the last 10 years, skeptics would have been correct, because without the fantastic CGI effects that were adopted, Life of Pi could never have made such a successful transition to the big screen. This film is visually stunning, its pure eye candy and without a doubt it's one of the few films that actually warrants a 3D tag. It goes without saying that the telling of a story involving a young boy stranded on a boat with a Tiger would involve extensive CGI manipulation, however it's hard to tell when the CGI begins and the real life tiger scenes end, that's how impressive this film is to watch. Lee has gracefully adopted this technology to tell such a beautiful tale, but at the same time he hasn't made the CGI so over-bearing that you feel as if you are watching a cartoon. The director has managed to still make this film look and feel so believable, in what can be deemed as unbelievable circumstances.

Life of Pi is a superb, entertaining and intriguing story which draws you in from the first moment and never fails to surprise. The story is certainly aimed to please a mass audience and this is demonstrated with its exploration of spirituality and Pi being a firm believer in multiple faiths such as Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. Whilst this notion even attracts teasing from Pi's own family, I feel this is sadly one of the book's only major flaws. Whist it seems warm and fluffy to be able to believe in three separate faiths and please everybody, it just doesn't sit right with me. I would have preferred Yann Martel to be bold and pick a religion and go with it. It seems the multiple faith narrative was written simply to please everyone, because whether Pi believes in one religion or three religions, it doesn't alter his journey or change the dynamics of the story. So he could have easily just believed in one. However, that's a flaw in the book itself and that shouldn't take away from the exceptional work that both Ang Lee and David Magee achieved in adapting such a difficult story and bringing it to life with much vivacity and flair.

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