Life of Pi (***)

New York Film Festival: There are a lot of positive and admirable things about Ang Lee’s latest Life of Pi.  Cinematographer Claudio Miranda captures the most uproarious and glorious shots captured this year thus far.  The 3D effects are some of the best ever seen and feel absolutely necessary in a film so heavy-handed with religious tones.  What Mychael Danna achieves in Lee’s film has just placed him in the forefront of great film composers working today.  He continues to impress with his musical range, envelopes the film’s message and thematic narrative in somber and beautiful melodic notes.   On Visual Effects alone, Life of Pi will likely land a nomination for Best Picture.  What Lee invents with the ocean and the integration of the tiger and the other animals is spectacular.  He allows the mood of the film and the imagery to marry each other in a ceremonial experience that stands next to Sci-Fi epics like Avatar (2009) and Hugo (2011).

Newcomer Suraj Sharma puts a valiant effort in the role of “Pi,” a performance that may land him more critical and impressive roles in the future.  The work is reminiscent of great breakthrough performers like Rudy Youngblood (Apocalypto, 2006) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire, 2008); both were impressive turns but sadly will not catch any awards attention.  Irrfan Kahn, who has delivered in great supporting turns like The Namesake (2006) and A Mighty Heart (2007), could have his best chance ever for serious awards attention.  His hurdle will be a minimal screen presence and a supporting actor race that’s crowded with “movie stars.”

Lee directs the film with a firm hand.  He knows what he wants to say and for the most part gets his message across.  Unfortunately an unfocused and at times jumbled screenplay by the great David Magee creates an atmosphere that relies more on the visuals then the narrative.  Also, I’m unfamiliar with the book by Yann Martel, never read it before, so I have nothing to compare it to but much of the story’s elements of surprise feel rather cheap and ill-fitting.  Not sure how it will play with others but the film remains pretty consistent on the entertainment sector.

Lee explains his preparation for the film at the New York Film Festival with such passion and delight.  He speaks about getting Sharma properly prepared by placing him on a boat in the middle of the ocean and meeting a real life shipwreck survivor; Lee’s love for the project comes through, all four years in the making.  It’s a directorial achievement that the Director’s branch of the Academy could easily get behind.  Other technical merits like Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Film Editing are also very likely.  Miranda’s uses of colors, especially in the opening sequences of the film are extraordinary.  Cinematography could be an award that’s locked and loaded.

The film lands solidly on the front door of awards season with ease and could rally a loyal legion of followers.  Look out for the National Board of Review to kick it off…I can almost put money on it.

Life of Pi is a visual sensation!