Bad ending doesn’t ruin incredible journey
If a goal of computer-generated imagery or “CGI” (as it is commonly known) is to make the unbelievable seem real, or to make filmmable the previously thought unfilmable, then “Life of Pi” has raised animation to a new level. And despite a third act that nearly undermines every glorious minute prior–the visual splendor and hair-raising adventure of a young boy’s quest for survival on the high seas remains a triumph.
“Life of Pi” is also an outlier of sorts – a PG-rated live action family film that is neither a Disney creation, a sequel, or a comic book adaptation – indeed there’s nary a caped superhero to be found.
Told in three acts, this adaptation of Yann Martel’s popular novel begins with young Piscene Patel who later prefers “Pi,” (Ayush Tandon as a boy, Suraj Sharma as a teen, and Irrfan Khan as an adult) growing up in southeastern India. An inquisitive young man, Pi finds spiritual comfort by combining the religious ideals found in his native Hindu, Christianity, and Islam.
Looking for a better life, Pi’s family departs for Canada by cargo vessel, along with a menagerie of animals from the family zoo, when a huge storm topples and sinks the ship near the Marianas Trench. The second act of “Pi” chronicles the young boy’s perilous, seafaring exploits while adrift on a 20-foot life boat with the only other survivors: a crazed hyena, a wounded zebra, an old orangutan, and most memorably a very hungry adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
This portion of the film is aided immeasurably by director Ang Lee’s sure-handed vision and a team of talented animators that does more than make “Pi’s” journey feel real. (It is impossible to tell what is CGI and what is not.) Just as importantly, it thrusts us along for the wondrous, often harrowing journey where the arduous passage of time feels remarkably palpable.
Lee capitalizes on his artistic flair with several sequences of sparkling, often iridescent beauty where a giant whale, flying fish or hordes of meerkats become part of a resplendent fable, with “Pi” seeming to find God in the most miraculous places imaginable.
If “Life of Pi,” had ended with his safe return (which is already a given, since he’s telling the story to a curious American (an unnecessary but unobtrusive plot element), the film would have been none the worse. But a final act, almost an epilogue really, has Pi detailing an alternative explanation that mostly serves as one of the most anticlimactic endings in recent memory.
While audiences will be left to question the ending, there’s no doubt about the first 90 minutes. “Life of Pi” is an engaging, beautiful film that will likely be on many year-end “Best Of” lists, and deservedly so.