Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” is kicking off the 50th edition of the New York Film Festival tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and the internet is already a-buzz with some glowing reviews from this morning’s press screening.
The film is an epic 3D adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize-winning novel of the same name. Utilizing some of the best technology available, the film tells the story of a young Indian boy (Suraj Sharma, in his debut role) who survives a shipwreck and then spends 227 days on a lifeboat with none other than a Bengal tiger. Going into this morning’s screening, buzz was mixed on what was clearly a very risky project. But so far it seems like it might all work out, at least from a critical perspective (check out Indiewire’s review here).
This morning’s screening was followed by a lively press conference featuring Lee, Martel, Sharma and Fox 2000 exec Elizabeth Gabler. Here’s a few highlights:
1. Yann Martel on if he ever imagined “Life of Pi” as a film: “No. When i was writing it, it was very cinematic in my mind because of the contrast of colors in the blue ocean and white life boat and the orange and black tiger. In my mind it was very cinematic, but even the most basic cinema guru can realize that to turn that story into a movie would be an enormous technical challenge. So, no I didn’t imagine it. I never thought I would see it on the screen, I thought it would be too complicated.”
2. Ang Lee on his hesitation in taking on the project: “I read it when the book came out. I found it fascinating and mind-boggling. But I remember thinking to myself that nobody in their right mind would put up money for this! Because the literature is philosophy, regardless of how cinematic it is. And it would very, very expensive and nearly impossible to do. And how do you sell this thing? I thought the economic side and the artistic side might not ever meet… But about four years ago, [Fox 2000 exec] Elizabeth Gabler approached me and said it had always been their dream to work with me. Little by little, it started to become my destiny and my faith, so to speak.”
3. Elisabeth Gabler on what inspired her and the folks at Fox to make this film: “We knew we could never make this film without a superior guiding light in our leader and the filmmaker that was actually going to bring it to life. When we heard that Ang was possibly interested, I went to see him. And he said,’ Why is it that a studio would make a film like this? It’s going to be a big, huge movie. What about it inspires you?’ I told him that audiences are always craving something original and new and we felt that under his directorship we would have something that could be extraordinary and new to the world in so many different ways.”
4. Ang Lee on why it had to be in 3D: “I don’t think this was possible if I did it in 2D… If I had another dimension, maybe — just maybe — it might happen. Because in the regular way we go about making movies, this could not be done.”
5. Suraj Sharma on how he got the part: “Initially it was actually my brother that went for the audiiton and I went with him. They told me to audition too, and I did. It went on for six months. I had many call backs. And finally one day they told me I could go to Bombay. I was really excited when I went there and gave a final audition. The first time I didn’t think I did very well, and then Ang talked to me and made me breathe in particular ways that brought out emotion inside of me. And by the end of it I didn’t even feel like I was acting anymore. I was just kind of an instrument of sorts.”
6. Suraj Sharma on working opposite a CGI tiger: “The boat was pretty empty… There was no actual tiger [laughs]! But everyone made me watch these videos of tigers in different moods and different scenarios. Obviously tigers were there being trained and I would watch them being trained for long periods of time. It was kind of this series of images I saw of tigers in different moods and scenarios. By the end of it, I almost felt like the tiger really was there.”