I took my 7 year old to see Ang Lee's new movie, 'Life of Pi' in 3D. He was enthralled throughout the 127-minute duration... as was I.
Based on Yann Martel's magical novel, it's a tale of faith and the power of human storytelling as a means of making sense of the chaos about us. In doing so it utilises 3D technology to create depth and dimension in a series of hauntingly beautiful images. At times it was like wandering through an art gallery come to life. Ang Lee's direction and Claudio Miranda's cinematography make full use of 3D as a medium and the films early images of India are so vibrant and colourful - you can almost smell the spices...
Once at sea, the imagery takes on breath-taking beauty. In one shot young Pi's lifeboat is seen mid-frame bobbing beneath the stars on a sea filled with reflected stars. The CGI (largely courtesy of Rhythm and Hues Studios) is for the most part stunning. The Bengal tiger, Richard Parker (named after a clerical error), is a wondrous creation to behold. It breathes. It lives. It terrifies. It beats the apes of 'Rise of The Planet of The Apes' for best CGI creatures - paws down.
In his first acting role, Suraj Sharma as Pi Patel is superb. Real, raw and reminiscent of Dev Patel's breakout role in Danny Boyle's 'Slumdog Millionaire.' Sharma, and the tiger he shares a lifeboat with for the majority of the movie, dominate much as Tom Hanks and Wilson the volleyball in 'Castaway.' But when they appear, the supporting cast are perfectly pitched; from Gerard Depardieu's fleeting appearance as a mean spirited ships-cook, to Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi narrating his tale.
It's warm, big-hearted, life-affirming tale of faith against all the odds and the power of storytelling that is a visual treat in 3D - from the opening credits in which animals in an Indian zoo wander across and through the frame, to the spectacular shipwreck, stunning bioluminescent jellyfish, a
leaping whale and a gorgeous liquid dream sequence.
It ain't all nice and twee either - bigger animals eat little animals, nature is red in tooth and claw, and only the fittest and most able to adapt to their environment survive - especially when that environment turns out to be a tiny lifeboat in the midst of a vast ocean. This is no Disneyfied cartoon in which cute creatures cuddle and grin. The tiger roars, rips and even at one point pisses in young Pi's face. When the food supplies on his little lifeboat run low, young Pi comments that whilst he can eat biscuits: "God made tigers carnivorous, so I must learn to catch fish. If I don't, I'm afraid his last meal will be a skinny vegetarian boy..."
Whether you're religious or not this is a tale of spirituality that asks big questions whilst focusing on the basics of survival - food, water, shelter - life and death. But what does it all mean? Why do we suffer? Is there a point to it all?
The point of course is what we make it. The story we tell. In bumper sticker terms: "It's about the journey not the destination"... "The meaning of life is the meaning we give it"... As a youngster, Pi, born a Hindu, also embraces Christianity and Islam - seeing no contradiction in following all three in his search for meaning as he learns that, as the adult Pi says: "All of life is an act of letting go."
There's a lot going on in 'Life of Pi' - but at the end of the day it is what you make it. And that's the point of any good story. For my 7 year-old it was the enthralling adventure of a young boy at sea in a lifeboat with a ferocious tiger for company. For me it was a tale about life, loss, suffering and the human need to create meaning amidst the chaos.
I didn't find 'Life of Pi' a life changing experience, but it was a magical tale magically told.
Who knows what it will be for you... ?