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Life of Pi (3D Blu-ray Review)

17 Apr, 2013 By: John Latchem

Box Office $124.28 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $49.99 3D BD combo
Rated ‘PG’ for emotional thematic content throughout, and some scary action sequences and peril.
Stars Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Gérard Depardieu.

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi offers not just a great deal of visual splendor, but in many ways is also a feast for the soul.

Adapted from the Yann Martel’s novel, which was considered by many in Hollywood to be unfilmable, Ang Lee’s treatment, from a screenplay by David Magee, effortlessly proves all those concerns to have been unfounded. It just took a touch of creativity.

In a story that could ultimately be described as Cast Away meets The Usual Suspects, we are treated to the story of Pi Patel, an Indian living in Canada who relays a fantastic tale to a young journalist. His family ran a zoo in India, and seeking a better life they set sail to Canada on a barge, with the animals in tow, but a storm caused the ship to sink. Eventually Pi was left to fend for himself for 227 days on the open ocean in a lifeboat, his only companion a tiger named Richard Parker.

Telling the story as a flashback allows for any number of fantasy elements to embellish the narrative, while also setting up an ambiguous plot twist that doesn’t add much aside from deepening the film’s spiritual context.

But the film’s technical achievements are what earned it most of its attention at Oscar time, when it nabbed well-deserved trophies for direction, cinematography, visual effects and original score. Lee’s quest to bring the film to the big screen is well chronicled in the bonus material, primarily the hourlong documentary “A Filmmaker’s Epic Journey” and another half-hour or so of additional featurettes.

Most interesting is the revelation that most of the shots of the tiger were in fact CGI (only 23 shots were of a real tiger, when the animal didn’t have to interact with people). The effect is flawless, though that’s probably the only way to depict the emaciated look of the big cat after months at sea with little food without incurring the wrath of several humane societies.

The filmmakers’ desire to depict the tiger just right even extended to the editing bay, where a trainer worked with the editor to make sure the tiger reactions were consistent from shot to shot.

Life of Pi was shot in 3D, and takes full advantage of the effect with several shots of fish and animals flying directly at the camera. At one point, Lee even plays with the aspect ratio, letting flying fish jump over the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen to enhance the 3D effect.

The disc also includes deleted scenes in full 3D, as well as two visual effects progressions that can be watched in either 2D or 3D. One depicts the sinking of the barge, the other the construction and use of a massive wave tank to depict the lifeboat scenes (even though most of the ocean water was ultimately replaced by CGI anyway).

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