One of the biggest question marks of the upcoming fall/winter movie season is Ang Lee‘s “Life of Pi,” a costly literary adaptation (from the beloved novel by Yann Martel) with zero stars and an unconventional narrative (following a young boy as he’s left adrift in the ocean with some animals). Whether or not it’s going to connect at all is a huge question for Fox, who is releasing the 3D film on Thanksgiving. In a recent interview with The New York Times, it seemed to be getting to Lee.
“I’m like Pi,” Lee told the Times, referencing the movie’s hero, a young Indian boy (Suraj Sharma). “I feel adrift over the Pacific. I haven’t locked the picture yet. There are lots of confusions, constant surprises. There are times you feel defeated. You feel like your faith is being tested. When you’re on the ocean, it’s spiritual. I look at God and ask, ‘Why?’ But it’s a happy why.” Keep in mind that he’s just weeks away from opening the New York Film Festival – the first time a 3D movie has ever opened the festival.
Lee seemed defiant about capturing something real while utilizing the 3D format, which has typically been reserved for children’s films, science-fiction extravaganzas, and gimmicky horror material. “There is a certain perception about 3-D, but just because nobody has made an intimate movie with it doesn’t mean it can’t be done,” Lee said. Lee’s cinematographer was Claudio Miranda, who worked with David Fincher on “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and shot some of the all-time best 3D for Disney’s “TRON: Legacy,” so it’s in good hands (the trailer, in full 3D, is pretty jaw-dropping too).
But that’s not to say that Lee is totally comfortable with how things are going. Far from it. The movie was mostly shot in a giant water tank in Taiwan, and the cast and crew had to deal with children, animals (mostly computer generated – we wish the article had gone into this, we’ve heard that tiger was a tricky one to get right, effects wise), and the expectations of countless fans of the novel. This is also his first film in a long time without frequent creative collaborator James Schamus and Schamus’ team at Focus Features.
He’s particularly worked up about how much the movie cost, even though he wanted the budget to be even higher initially. “We are doing something sensitive,” Lee told the Times. “Normally you do it cheap. Sensitivity and money are like parallel lines. The don’t meet.”
The process of doing “Life of Pi” has fundamentally altered him. He “stresses out” about thinking about the box office prospects and has forced his hand in other ways, too. “I’m like Peter Pan,” he said. “I was not very mature in many ways, but I learned a lot of things. I had to take decisions that were more responsible.”
At this point, he’s just exhausted, and the ravenous tiger in his boat is the “Life of Pi” movie. “I just want to survive it,” Lee said. Hopefully he does survive it. After opening the New York Film Festival, the film will go wide (and in 3D) on November 21st.