Life of Pi (2012)
Life of Pi tells the remarkable story of a young Indian boy (Suraj Sharma) whose family decide to relocate to Canada along with their zoo of animals. Then a massive storm sets in, the ship goes down, and Pi finds himself the only human survivor in a lifeboat along with a wounded zebra, a hyena, an orangutang and a Bengal tiger, and they must all fight for survival in an unforgiving Pacific ocean whilst learning to relate to each other.
Hailed for its breathtaking 3D visuals and fantastic story, Life of Pi is an obvious crowd-pleaser celebrating life, nature, and a romanticized version of the survival of the fittest. At its best, the movie encapsulates much of what the film medium has to offer, but I don't care too much for Ang Lee's direction here. It's too showy, too overspirited, like something made high on drugs. Nature's wonders and carefully selected 3D-friendly images are being thrown at you whenever Lee feels the need to embellish. Additionally, the conversational narrative form makes the first part of the film too talky and explanatory. In a film as devoted to imagery as this, I would have wished the filmmakers had used the rich visuals more to tell the story than to brag.
The highlights are few and far between, but in the film's middle part - the survival segments - Lee finally lets his images speak for themselves, and this is easily the pinnacle of the film. The interplay between the boy and the tiger is among the most believeable and interesting aspects in an otherwise at times unbelievable setting, and it combines tension and suspense with several fascinating psychological and behaviouristic observations.
The richness of this story is unquestionable, and I suspect the novel could be a good read, but the film only works partially because it's too unfocused and shallow. Some will claim that fantastical elements needn't be believable or accounted for, but in Life of Pi these elements work merely as an excuse for scoring cheap points and preach pretentiously about the importance of having faith, believing in yourself, follow your dreams, and several other vapid Hollywoodish clichés. Life of Pi will probably be a wet dream for uncritical AMPAS members, but it's really one of the most flawed movies of the year - albeit never completely uninteresting.