AKA The One Where Ang Lee Should Have Never Jumped Ship
If you think my reviews on here are painful, be grateful we’re not friends on the book of Face. I review everything out of 5. Standard. Except I allow freely for decimilisation. Encourage it, even. Its relevant, bear with me.
Life Of Pi, the book, was never for me. As I state HERE(!), I don’t do books. Never have. Never will over films. So, when I saw the trailer, much like Jack Reacher, I was in for a surprise. I knew literally nothing. Since I don’t read Empire/Total Film anymore, (we fell out of love), I don’t see reviews either. So no spoilers. Imagine my surprise then when this film is played completely straight. It’s not a stoner movie. The giant whale in the trailer, with the trippy water? That’s played for real. So there was a big adjustment from my point as a viewer. I genuinely thought the whole film was meant to be a trippy dream. Like What Dreams May Come, but less shit.
Once the ship went down I was totally hooked. That sequence, in glorious 3D (FU Mike Williams!), is phenomenal. I just smirked as various animals (LOOK! A ZEBRA!), tried to escape. It’s fantastically well done. A brilliant set piece. I thought I was on for a minor classic.
Instead, the film got stuck within half hour of the ship going down. But where did it get stuck, you ask? Unfortunately, somewhere up its own arse. The film tries (sort of) to build to a big emotional core of Pi’s relationship with the Tiger that’s on his life raft with him. But it fails. And this is coming from someone who cries at anything. Rain Man. Armageddon. Anything. I’m not fussy. Throw an animal in there, like socks in Dances With Wolves and I’m a goner. But here, the final pay off is really weak. I literally felt nothing. Well, except for complete detachment.
So where did it lose me? Religion.
It just doesn’t transfer to film very well, does it? I can be with 76,000 people near Salford Quays and have, what is for me, a religious experience. But here, in various scenes where Pi sees, or feels, signs… it’s just empty. Hollow. And that’s odd. Because films can get it right. 2001 did, for me. Sunshine, too. If you want to make a film about trying to touch god, you can. I’ll try to get involved. But it needs some emotional connection. 2001 and Sunshine used music far better than Pi in this regard. I can watch both and get lost in moments. Get the idea. But with Pi I was always at arm’s length. It’s a shame.
I really thought there would be a Titanic style love struggle after the first five minutes or so. Or at least a Slumdog style romance. But when nothing gets developed there, you know it’s a misstep. One of my favourite scenes in a movie trying to describe true love, is in A Perfect Storm. (Told you i was a sucker). Mark Wahlberg. Certain death. Tries to talk to his wife, who Peterson brilliantly shows in the top right of the screen. Love travels distance, you’re always in my heart – yadda yadda. But Pi isn’t bothered by that at all. There’s very little pining over the love of his life that he’s left. He is upset he’s stranded from his family, sure. But all we’ve seen of his Dad is him being a bit of a dick. Again, no emotional attachment.
So the decision was made for Ang Lee, really. Get a relationship that we can believe in between Pi and the Tiger. Well, to be fair, he does. But, as I said, I felt nothing at the end of the film. Not even the sort of tear I get when Connery gets mown down in Untouchables. And certainly not anything on the scale of Mel Gibson saying goodbye to his wife in Signs. So they fudged it for me. A 4/5 drops to a 3.5/5. That’s the difference.
And Ang Lee can do emotional, too. I’ve never been a fan of Ice Storm, really. But Hulk had some nice ideas, and Ride With The Devil is an underrated gem.
I don’t know how much Lee has pandered to the book, here. I can imagine fans of the book frothing at the mouth shouting: YOU’VE MISSED THE FUCKING POINT!! Maybe I have. But if McQuarrie can create a film that makes me feel like the film is turning pages, and being creative in how it does so, I should expect that from Lee too. Instead, I’m asked to spend an hour on a boat, with serious repetition, and no emotional core that can compare with my favourite volley ball. The bits before that though? Stunning. And the ship going down alone is worth the admission – especially in 3D. Its stunning. One shot of Pi underwater, watching it go down, is up there with anything this year. It’s just a shame that as a sitting duck, WANTING to cry, the film got me nowhere near.
Maybe its my fault for not liking books. Maybe its everyone else’s for billing books like this as un-filmable. Or maybe its Ang Lee’s fault for not being able to get in touch with his feminine side.