Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) experiences film-making in 3D for the first time with this handsome adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Yann Martel.
Life Of Pi is the first film since Avatar to fully exploit the eye-popping format, immersing us in the central character’s water-logged odyssey, including a terrifying sequence in angry seas reminiscent of Titanic.
The hefty premium levied by cinemas to wear the uncomfortable plastic spectacles is worth every penny.
Lee’s vision is breathtaking and entire sequences have been masterfully choreographed to take full advantage of the depth that 3D brings to the big screen.
A school of flying fish darts straight at the camera, causing us to duck and weave; the walls of a freshwater pool seem to stretch down into inky blackness forever; and shards of moonlight break through overlapping tree canopies laden with chattering meerkats.
It’s a tour-de-force of technical wizardry.
Yet all of this gorgeous wrapping would mean nothing without a deep emotional core.
And once again, Lee elicits stunning performances from his ensemble cast that leave us choking back tears.
In a slight departure from the source novel, screenwriter David Magee uses a simple framing device to draw us into the narrative.
An inquisitive writer (Rafe Spall) turns up unexpectedly at the door of Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan), having been told the stranger’s life story deserves to be immortalised in print.
In flashback, Pi recounts his youth as the son of a circus owner (Adil Hussain), who decided to sell the family business in Pondicherry and emigrate to Canada with his wife Gita (Tabu) and two boys.
A raging storm causes the Japanese freighter to overturn and young Pi (Suraj Sharma) escapes in a lifeboat along with a zebra, orang-utan, hyena and a tiger called Richard Parker.
The rest of the clan, including Pi’s older brother Ravi (Vibish Sivakumar), perish at sea.
As the days pass, the predators prevail until just Richard Parker and Pi remain, trapped together in a vast expanse of water.
“I’m afraid his last meal will be a skinny, vegetarian boy,” quips the trembling hero in voiceover.
Life Of Pi is a deeply moving tribute to the endurance of the human spirit in the aftermath of senseless tragedy.
Sharma, who has never acted before, is mesmerising, plucking our heartstrings in close-up as his character is flung repeatedly through the emotional wringer.
He doesn’t strike a single false note and his relationship with the tiger is beautifully realised in tense, humorous and touching scenes.
Claudio Miranda’s sumptuous cinematography ravishes the senses, enhanced by slick digital effects, which bring the menagerie of two- and four-legged species to life.
Lee marshals a dizzying array of elements with jaw-dropping ease, proving that substance and style can be blissful bedfellows in the right hands.
Release date 2oth December. Rating PG. Running time 127 minutes.
Main cast: Suraj Sharma, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Irrfan Khan, Vibish Sivakumar, Rafe Spall, Gerard Depardieu. Director: Ang Lee.
By Damon Smith