MPAA Rating: PG
(Author’s note: Typically I avoid spoilers in my reviews at all costs. However, I found I couldn’t review Life of Pi without slipping in a mild spoiler, but I promise it’s fairly mild, especially if you’ve read the book).
Since the day of its release, Life of Pi has generated intense critical and commercial success. Audiences have flocked to it in herds, much like the assorted zebras, orangutans and tigers that the titular hero finds himself besieged with in the film. Critics have raved over it, praising the work of its star Suraj Sharma and calling it the next Avatar. Perhaps the greatest comparison to Avatar is that Life of Pi is also tremendously overrated.
To be sure, Life of Pi has a lot going for it. Suraj Sharma, who plays Pi, gives an amazing performance, especially considering that this is the first time he’s acted in a motion picture and that his costars are mostly CGI animals. Pi also provides a few moments of humor, something the rest of the film could’ve used more of. The boy has an amazing monologue at the end of the film that would be worthy of a Best Actor Oscar if Daniel Day-Lewis hadn’t done a film in the same year.
Yet Sharma’s performance, as strong as it is, isn’t enough to carry Life of Pi for its entire duration. Pi’s journey in the lifeboat with the tiger (whom he names Richard Parker) lasts 27 days, and at times the film seems to be about that long.
Over the course of his journey, Pi does a bit of ace sailing, tries to appease his furry travelling companion, and ponders a few ethical issues. The problem is, that’s really all there is to the film. With the exception of Pi’s family, who perish early on, there are almost no additional subplots or characters. It’s just a boy and his tiger, and that gets very dull very quickly.
The visual effects are usually pretty impressive, especially on the tiger and the water that surrounds him (some of the other animals look a little rubbery, but never distractingly so). By about halfway through the film, though, it’s clear director Ang Lee and his team have run out of ideas on how to use them. A misplaced dream sequence from Richard Parker ‘s perspective is a demonstration of the technology’s strengths but nothing more, at least as far as the story is concerned.
There is eventually a chilling plot twist that nicely shakes up your expectations, but it’s too little, too late. Life of Pi is a lot less than the sum of its parts. It’s not a terrible movie by any means, but watching it really does feel like being stranded at sea: it may seem exciting at first, but soon it gets too dull and heavy, until you just wish it would end. C+