‘Life of Pi’ is another great film of 2012

Ben Conniff

When I first saw the previews for “Life of Pi,” I wasn’t impressed. But then I kept hearing about how good it was, and then the American Film Institute named it to its list of best films for 2012. Because the movie has garnered such hype, I decided I had to check it out for myself.

The film is about a boy named Pi (Suraj Sharma) who finds himself stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger, when the ship carrying him and his family from India to Canada sinks during a violent storm. During his time at sea, Pi’s life becomes an epic journey of self-discovery.

I’m very glad I saw this movie. “Life of Pi” is director Ang Lee’s contribution to the crowded field of motion pictures for your consideration during the 2012 awards season. With its marvelous production design, ingenious editing, spectacular special effects and a riveting performance from Sharma, “Life of Pi” lives up to the hype and is one of my favorite films of the year. At the very least, it deserves consideration for Best Picture, but I think it’s a sure-fire winner in several categories.

I thought “The Hobbit” had some great CG work, but “Life of Pi” features some set pieces that can only be described as astonishing. The raging storms, crashing waves, lifelike animals, and a brief, yet captivating, scene involving a school of jellyfish all blew me away. 

Think of the special effects look as something like a cross between “The Jungle Book” and “Avatar,” and expect “Life of Pi” and “The Hobbit” to duke it out for Best Visual Effects come Oscar time.

I also enjoyed the editing work, especially in the first 45 minutes or so. The use of cross-fading and cross-cutting allows the audience to witness Pi’s thoughts and actions as he dictates them through on-screen narration.  

The cast of “Life of Pi” is terrific as well. Rafe Spall plays “Writer,” a man in search of an idea who comes to an adult Pi (Irrfan Kahn), hoping he’ll share his life-changing experience at sea and allow him to share it with the world.

Spall shows all the wide-eyed wonder and interest of an eager listener, not much unlike young Fred Savage’s performance years ago alongside Peter Falk in “The Princess Bride.” Kahn is also wonderful as a grown-up, post-experience Pi.

He doesn’t flamboyantly express tons of emotion, but he’s a joy to watch as he attempts to keep himself in check, especially as he recants the end of his journey. 

And finally I have to mention Sharma, who plays a teenage Pi and carries the film for the majority of two hours. “Life of Pi” is a star-making turn for this young man. He’s a marvel as he portrays the ferocity of a changing teen who suddenly loses everything and finds himself in extraordinary circumstances.  

I was rooting for this kid from the start, and I loved watching the change in him from beginning to end. Sharma IS Pi, so just hand this guy the Best Actor nominations already!

It probably won’t be in theaters much longer, so check it out in 3-D if you still can.