NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

November 30, 2012

'Life of Pi': One of year's most magical films

If one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, then movies should apply to this concept as well. Have you ever had somebody explain the plot of a film to you and immediately you’re baffled and hesitant on whether it’s something worth investing your time into? Take, for instance, the doozy of a plot at the center of “Life of Pi,” in which a boy becomes trapped at sea on a boat with a Bengal tiger.

But don’t let the oddball plot fool you, as director Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is one of the more magical film experiences of the year. But in order to receive this magic, one must first judge the movie not by how it begins, but where it goes from there.

Getting off to a shaky start, “Life of Pi” isn’t quite sure about the best way to structure its first act so it relies solely on the voiceover narration of an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) dictating his life story to “The Writer” (Rafe Spall).

If one can push past the first 20 minutes or so — which aren’t bad but rather poorly constructed narrative-wise — “Life of Pi” becomes a wondrous experience. When Older Pi gets to the part of the story where young Pi (Suraj Sharma) is separated from his family by a terrible storm at sea, the voiceover narration finally takes a rest and the visuals are allowed to operate freely and take control of the story, as film ultimately should do.

Pi becomes trapped on a lifeboat in the middle of the Pacific with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and a large Bengal tiger humorously named Richard Parker. Soon, only Pi and Richard Parker remain, and “Life of Pi” becomes a story of survival, bonding and isolation. In many ways, I found myself thinking this would make a good double feature with “Cast Away,” though Richard Parker has nothing on Wilson the volleyball.

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