‘Life of Pi’ Review Round-Up Out of the New York Film Festival


Life of Pi movie trailer

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Ang Lee‘s Life of Pi screened for critics this morning at the New York Film Festival and by-and-large received unanimous kudos and even those that weren’t as high on it still seemed to be highly respectful of the work put in.

The synopsis tells us the film, based on Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel is set in Pondicherry, India and centers on Piscine Molitor Patel (Suraj Sharma) – known as Pi – a well-to-do zookeeper’s son who leads a rich life acquiring a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. However, political changes in India cause the Patel family to choose to move to Canada where Pi ultimately finds himself adrift in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The rest of the story chronicles Pi’s 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi.

I have gathered the opinions of eight different people that saw it this morning and offered snippets from their reviews below. Being someone that doesn’t like to read reviews of others before I’ve written my own I cherry-picked these comments based on how the first sentence in each paragraph read, attempting to still go into the movie fresh once it screens here in Seattle closer to its November 21 release date (or earlier if Fox would be so kind).

However, it’s quite obvious people are loving it and it seems as if it will certainly be among the Best Picture contenders at this point, though it also sounds like a film that will be appreciated by critics more than loved by the Academy. That said, below-the-line technical awards sound like their assured, particularly cinematography and visual effects.

The film will play for audiences tonight and a reaction there will be equally interesting. Hopefully someone on the ground will lay out a report for us, but until then, here are some of the early reactions. My goal with these was to give a general overview of the reaction to the film as well as its future awards prospects…

Anne Thompson at indieWire writes:

As I suspected when I first saw footage at CinemaCon in April, this movie will play for critics, audiences and awards givers all over the world. It has the right elements: globally popular literary source (7 million copies sold); heart-warming family story from an A-list Oscar-winning director (“Brokeback Mountain”); and epic VFX. While “Life of Pi” will be a leading contender for Oscars, the film’s technical accomplishments should certainly be recognized (especially “Curious Case of Benjamin Button” D.P. Claudio Miranda), as well perhaps as actors Sharma and Kahn. Richard Parker deserves a nomination as well.

Justin Chang at Variety writes:

A literal crouching tiger is merely one of many visual wonders in Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi,” a gently transporting work of all-ages entertainment that melds a harrowing high-seas adventure with a dreamy meditation on the very nature of storytelling. Summoning the most advanced digital-filmmaking technology to deliver the most old-fashioned kind of audience satisfaction, this exquisitely beautiful adaptation of Yann Martel’s castaway saga has a sui generis quality that’s never less than beguiling, even if its fable-like construction and impeccable artistry come up a bit short in terms of truly gripping, elemental drama.

Todd McCarthy at The Hollywood Reporter writes:

It’s not surprising that it took producer Gil Netter a decade to get the film made, as technology would not have permitted it to be realized, at least in anything close to its current form, until the last few years. Shot on location in India as well as in a giant tank in Taiwan where the open water effects scenes were made, Life of Pi is an unusual example of anything-is-possible technology put at the service of a humanistic and intimate story rather than something that smacks of a manufactured product.

Pete Hammond at Deadline writes:

To say it lives up to the promise of that CinemaCon preview and subsequent trailer may be an understatement. Lee has pulled off an immense challenge and delivered a wholly cinematic 3D experience and spectacle that ought to make jaws drop and audiences shed a few tears.

Jeff Wells at Hollywood Elsewhere writes:

I think that Life of Pi is going to be regarded as a major visual feast by the visual-delight-for-the-sake-of-visual-delight crowd — the pure cinema geeks — and as a visually enthralling curiosity by the vast majority of the viewing public, as a non-starter by a significant portion of the family audience (i.e., as a bore by kids and their legendary short-attention spans) and as a respectable also-ran in the Best Picture contest.

No one will dismiss or disrespect it. It is a reasonably sturdy work of art. It is worth seeing. It is food for thought. It might even kick in with religious types of all shapes and colors. But there’s no way it gets into the Best Picture game. Sorry.

David Poland at Movie City News writes:

It’s a piece of high art, tethered to earth in the desire to be accessible and PG safe. It’s also an earthly big studio effects show, unable to entertain wildly enough to overcome the simplicity of the story as it rolls out and the unavoidable stench of death that hangs over the tale.

I sat in the film, completely open to all of the elements of the film. Ang Lee, check. Irrfan Khan, check. Fantastical journey story, check. Spiritual enlightenment, check. One man confronts his soul, check. The elements had me at, “Hello.”

But it never came together for me. Truly not for a minute.

Kris Tapley at Hit Fix writes:

The film ought to play well for Academy types, particularly given the focus with which 20th Century Fox can campaign it to them. Best Picture and Best Director are certainly in play, though acting and writing nominations could be hard to come by. Nevertheless, recognition throughout the crafts, from cinematography to film editing, original score to sound fields and, of course, Best Visual Effects, ought to help it to a bountiful tally.

Rodrigo Perez at The Playlist writes:

Taiwanese-born American film director Ang Lee’s career is difficult to pin down. He’s constructed nuanced and well-crafted dramas of various milieus and textures (from The Ice Storm, and Sense and Sensibility to the more erotic Lust/Caution and Brokeback Mountain) and orchestrated films of more action-oriented visual pizzazz and flair as well (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hulk). Perhaps bridging all of his eclectic interests, Lee configures a lovely and winning formula for the dazzling and emotionally rich Life Of Pi.