At the Movies: Life of Pi

There are a half-dozen movies opening today, all vying for your holiday movie dollar. But there’s a good chance you won’t be able to catch them all amid the turkey-eating, football-watching, Black Friday-shopping festivities. If you can only catch one movie this holiday weekend, my suggestion would be “Life of Pi.”

Director Ang Lee has transformed Yann Martel’s novel into a visually captivating work that’s part nature film, part survival drama. It’s all engrossing.

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma as a youth; Irrfan Khan as an adult) lives with his family in India where they run a zoo. His father decides to move to Canada, bringing his family and several animals with him.

A late-night storm swamps the freighter. As the ship sinks to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, Pi finds himself the sole human survivor as he shares a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena and an orangutan.

Soon, Pi’s fellow castaways are gone — victims of a fifth survivor, Richard Parker.

Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger.

It’s a large lifeboat, but not large enough to accommodate a hungry tiger and a human. Pi fashions a raft which he ties to the boat, giving him a small spot of safety from his shipmate.

If you think this is going to end with Richard and Pi working out their differences and becoming best friends, think again. Richard is a tiger. Not a cartoon tiger, the real, man-eating kind. Pi’s only hope for survival is to learn how to fish and find other ways to keep Richard fed. As the days turn to weeks, Pi realizes that keeping Richard alive is the only thing keeping him going.

“Life of Pi” is a magical, life-affirming story with gorgeous imagery  and moving performances. Rarely do I recommend you see a movie in 3D but this is one of those special occasions. The 3D really enhances the film and is the best use of the technique in a live-action movie since “Avatar.”

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