Life of Pi Review: A More Realistic Calvin & Hobbes

In real life, that cartoon strip would’ve been a lot shorter.

Calvin:  Hey Hobbes, what’s the meaning of life?

Hobbes:  *Eats Calvin*

MV5BNTg2OTY2ODg5OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODM5MTYxOA@@._V1._SY317_Okay, so once again I have to preface this review by clarifying that I haven’t read the book.  After Cloud Atlas and Perks of Being a Wallflower, I’m looking forward to finally being able to say “Yes, I have read the book” when I review The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey next week.  In any case, I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a while but I can’t say I was exactly psyched to see it.  Not having read the book and not being the hugest Ang Lee fan, it seemed like the main draw the film held for me was its inspiring story of survival along with some of the most beautiful CGI of the year.  That plus it’s status as a nationwide release got me into my seat, albeit at the regular, non-3D price (Seriously, to hell with 3D).  I left the theater feeling like I would have been much happier if I had just left before the very last line of the movie (I will avoid elaborating for fear of spoilers).  Ultimately, the religious messages of the film fell a bit flat for me and the ending could have been handled better, but the majority of the film does succeed in being as emotionally powerful as it is beautiful to behold.  

The Plot:  

Life-of-Pi-ShipwreckThe greater part of the film is told through flashbacks, as an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) relates the story of his life to a struggling author (Rafe Spall).  That story begins with a brief account of Pi’s young life in Pondicherry, India, where his family owned a botanical garden-turned-Zoo.  Financial difficulties force Pi’s father (Adil Hussain) to move his family to Canada and sell the residents of their Zoo, to young Pi’s dismay.  While traveling across the pacific, however, their cargo ship is taken down by a powerful storm, leaving Pi (Suraj Sharma) adrift on a life raft with a fully grown Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker.  As food and water start to run out, Pi is forced to do all he can to coexist with Richard Parker as they try to survive until the current brings them to some distant shore.

sorel_piI’ll be honest, I was a little bored with the first half hour or so of the film.  Most of the scenes between Adult Pi and the author just establish a framework for Pi to tell his story to the audience, i.e. including Ellen Page in Inception to give someone for Joseph Gordon Levitt to explain the workings of the movie to.  These scenes are fairly heavy during the beginning half of the film but nearly drop out once Pi is shipwrecked (thankfully).  If you’re trying to reduce the film as much as possible, I guess you could say that the first half of the film is a spiritual Slumdog Millionaire while the second is a psychedelic Castaway, and I wasn’t really drawn into the story until the latter half began.

The Players:

Life_of_Pi_stormWhy not start with the four Pi’s (5, 11, Teenage and Adult).  The first two ages are mainly present to establish Pi’s character as someone who only marches to the beat of his own drum, and while I understand the significance of these scenes to Pi’s development, I couldn’t help but think “Get on with it!”  Once we finally get to Teenage Pi and the actual plot, however, I found myself consistently impressed with how well Sharma handled his character.  Balancing between Tiger-Tamer, Maritime MacGuyver and plucky-but-scared human teenager, Sharma is very easy to root for and proves himself a great choice for the role.  Khan is given a nothing to do as Adult Pi except to tell his story and explain his religious ideology, and no amount of acting powers on his part made me any less eager to get back to the actual story again.

Religious Under/Over Tones:

life-of-pi-whale1I say Under/Over because the film periodically shifts between verbally explaining its religious message and weaving in through the subtext of Pi’s journey across the Pacific.  I’ll admit, as an Agnostic I probably can’t relate the same to this subject matter as a more Pious individual might.  That being said, I would guess that the book did a much better job at weaving religion into the story than the film did, if nothing else because of the time limit of the film.  Obviously the idea of believing in three separate religions at once requires a bit more exploration than a five-minute scene, but that’s the trouble with adapting a book like this:  you’re going to have to crunch things down.

The End *Possible Spoiler alert*:

Life-of-Pi-Wallpapers-1024x595As I said above, I will do my best not to spoil anything but I have to touch on the ending.  There is a twist given at the end that I didn’t even comprehend until it was halfway through being presented.  At that point, I actually liked the spin on the story it offered, and was much happier with the movie as a whole because of that.  Unfortunately, the stupid f*cking author has to have one last line that adds a sort of double-ambiguity to the entire thing, and I cannot tell you how frustrating that was for me.  It would be like the Sixth Sense having Bruce Willis find out he was dead, then right at the end giving you a piece of information that suggests that he might actually be alive…

The Verdict:  8.5/10  Impressive

+ Very strong performance by Sharma

+ Absolutely Gorgeous (yet occasionally gratuitous) Special Effects

+ Intriguing (yet frustrating) Twist

– Religious themes are under-served and a bit confusing

Other Reviews:

Dan The Man Movie Reviews:  8/10

Fast Films Reviews:  4.5/5

Vincent Loy:  7.1/10

Fogs’ Movie Reviews:  A

K & B Hype the Movies: B+

Entertainment Maven:  (Good-Not-Great)

Wylie Writes:  “Just OK”

The Movie Review Blog:  “A Cinema Lover’s Delight”

About r361n4

I'm a student at the University of Washington Majoring Business. I've always loved movies and my goal is to work on the financial side of the film industry. Until then though, I figure I'll spare my friends from my opinions and shout them from a digital mountaintop for anyone who's interested. After all, if a tree falls in a forest and nobody blogs about it, does it really happen?
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27 Responses to Life of Pi Review: A More Realistic Calvin & Hobbes

  1. Shrey Khetarpal says:

    I love open ended books/movies… I can understand why the last question frustrated you but I like when it’s left to the reader/viewer’s interpretation and/or beliefs 🙂

    • r361n4 says:

      I completely get where you’re coming from, it really is a matter of personal preference. For example, I was okay with the ambiguous ending of Inception but I think w/ Life of Pi the thing that threw me is how close that ambiguity came after the big twist. Did you read the book by the way?

  2. I never really was interested in this, and I’ll probably wait till rental to see it, but I couldn’t help but think of Calvin and Hobbes after seeing the poster.

    • r361n4 says:

      I discovered C & H last year and went on a bit of a bender, followed by copious amounts of XKCD, lol. Rental might not capture some of the visual awesomeness but I suppose that depends on how badass your TV is

      • I grew up with a brother who was a HUGE Calvin & Hobbes fan (he owns almost nearly all the comics) and whether I liked it or not, he sort of forced me to read them too. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love them, though.

  3. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Andy. As you saw with my review, I didn’t love it, yet, I did think there were a lot of great things about it that makes me see why it’s possibly going to get nominated for so many Oscars. I think it should definitely win for Visual Effects as the flick is probably one of the most beautiful, and proper-uses of 3D I have seen in a long, long time.

    • r361n4 says:

      I now sort of wish I had actually seen in in 3D, (A sentence which I never thought I’d say again). I did think that some of the CGI on the animals in the opening shot was a bit unneeded though, they could have just used the actual animals, lol. I did think Richard Parker was impressive, (I did laugh a bit at the Puss-In-Boots eyes when he was in the ocean though). Also glad you mentioned Cast Away in your review 😀

    • You thought the 3D was good? I have trouble with 3D because I wear glasses and one eye is less powerful than the other, so it usually just gives me a headache. Even so, I can usually detect when a 3D money-shot is happening–money-shot being my term for the obligatory thing that flies towards the camera to justify 3D–and Life of Pi didn’t seem to have too many of them.

      Something else that seemed odd to me was that the CGI was a little less organic than I expected. I’m thinking about the scene where Pi/Parker look into the ocean and see all of creation. That’s a key CGI moment that should be wonderous, but it had an odd planetarium feel to it, you know what I mean? Maybe the 3D screwed up the detail, but the creatures seemed blank and the transitions (but for the whale thing) unimpressive. Compare it with the faerie scene in Snow White & The Huntsman (an otherwise blah movie) where everything was highly detailed and felt very natural.

      This is not to poo on the movie, because I liked it. It was one of the more complete films of this year. I have very few complaints, but you pointed out one of them as a highlight so I thought I’d put the other side. And I agree with Rorschach on this one, “Down with 3D.” Maybe this new High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D will be great, but I doubt it.

  4. My interpretation of the ending (aka the movie) was such that there was no personal interpretation to be had, but a personal message to agree or disagree with. [Spoiler:] When he says “Which story do you prefer?” he’s essentially giving the absolute question of religion. Do you accept the facts, science, and reality or the allegory, mythology, and irreality of religion? The harsh, unpleasant story, that’s reality. The tiger, the more pleasant story, that’s religion. In both stories, life sucks. He doesn’t have his parents or brother any more. In the greater scheme of things, there is evil in the world and we all die lonely, tragic deaths, so you might as well hope for heaven and a benevolent God with a meaning to life rather than all the bad bits and only absent curiosity as the perk to looking reality square in the eye.

    You might recall from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (if you read the book since you certainly wouldn’t get this from the movie), there’s a tension between Hermione’s secularism and nonbelief in the hallows (but belief in the horcruxes) and Ron’s doubtful belief in both. At one point, Harry asks himself, “How can I choose what to believe?” That’s the next question that Life of Pi (the movie) doesn’t really get around to. Its answer seems to be an aesthetic one–believe in beauty.

    • r361n4 says:

      Definitely an interesting take on it, I definitely see what you’re getting at with the question being a metaphor for Religion and I always love a Harry Potter reference 🙂 I do see the reasons for having it end that way and I have a feeling that Lee intended it the way you saw it. I think I tend to be a bit basic as a movie viewer so I like things to be well explained, but that gets away from the main point of film in that nothing is concrete. The funny thing is that my entire site is based off of a “Rorschach”, which is ambiguity in it’s purest form.

      In any case thanks for taking the time to post that, the more comment debate the better 🙂

  5. sohansurag says:

    I agree with some of your observations…but I still feel..had all the CG been taken away…it wouldn’t have garnered the least of interest
    I love this quote though….”A More Realistic Calvin & Hobbes”

    • r361n4 says:

      Lol, danke. I’m the kind of person who makes endless comments to the person next to me when I see a movie, but most of the time I end up having to go alone so I have to make those comments on here. Sorry to hear you didn’t like it, but luckily enough there is still plenty to sink your teeth into this holiday season (I for one am a big LOTR fan so I’m looking forward to The Hobbit something fierce)

  6. Mark Hobin says:

    The ending didn’t bother me at all. It adds a little question mark that allows each viewer to think about what they have watched. I answered the question for myself and was very satisfied. It wasn’t a deal breaker. I enjoyed this film through and through. It’s really quite a special film.

    • r361n4 says:

      I saw your review, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really was impressed by a lot of the scenes, especially following the shipwreck, but I guess I’ve always had difficulty with question marks at the end of movies. I did feel like this particular question mark was there to actually add substance rather than just to screw with the audience (I.e. Inception, lol), so I can completely understand the case for it

  7. Yes , the end was slightly dramatic rather idiotic !

  8. Mark Walker says:

    Fantasic review Andy. I avoided the spoiler part but I have read the novel so it might not be too surprising. Can’t wait to see this though, it’s been on my radar for a while.

  9. Great review, man! Looking forward to watching this one. I actually read the book a while back and don’t remember it all too well. I’m finishing Catch Me If You Can tonight (a very fun read) and after that I’ll re-read Life of Pi so it can be fresh in my mind for when I go see the film.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I think that the point of the very end was that Pi had a special capacity for completely believing in several conflicting things at once–like how he was Hindu, Christian, and Muslim at the same time [ALERT! SPOILERS COMING]. In our scientific, Western, human sense the whole bit with Richard Parker didn’t actually happen; but it doesn’t matter, it makes a better story, and it does a much better job of telling us what happened inside Pi to help him survive mentally. And in the end the uptight, official Japanese insurance men saw that, and chose to tell the story with the animals as well. P.S. I am a HUGE fan of Calvin and Hobbes, and it also makes you wonder if the tiger is real, if it’s all the in the boy’s head, and if it really matters.

    • r361n4 says:

      Lol, this is why I love the comments section. I wasn’t even thinking of the situation with the insurance men that way, my thought was that the movie was suggesting that Pi had only told them the Tiger story in the first place and that it was what really happened, but it does make much more sense that they chose the animal story for the same reasons Pi did. Glad you’re a C & H fan too btw 😀

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