Critics are eating up Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi” following its NYFF debut on Friday. Raves praising the film’s immersive, spectacular use of 3-D, its inspirational pantheistic message and strong performances from the three actors playing Pi are in the majority, with a few outliers wishing for heftier substance over CG smoke and mirrors.
Review roundup below. Here’s coverage and video of the “Life of Pi” NYFF press conference and a Q & A with ex-Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman (below). And in the latest Oscar Talk Podcast, Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley discuss the film’s Oscar chances.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:
Lee looked at 3,000 candidates for the role (deliberately avoiding Bollywood talent) and found an unknown whose emotional facility is quite impressive. Ayush Tandon is captivating as the sponge that is young Pi, but absolutely imperative to the film’s success are the heart, lucidity and gravity Irrfan Khan provides as the grown-up Pi looking back at his experience.
Tom Shone, The Guardian:
Life of Pi feels warm-blooded, the perfect summation of the principle powering Lee’s entire career: still waters run deep. You see it both in the Zen minimalism of his compositions—check out the shots of sky reflected in a glassy ocean, the boat suspended in the middle as if hanging in thin air—and the sonar-like skill with which he sounds out the emotional depths of Martel’s tale. Lee’s pixels are animated by empathy.
Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist:
What makes the picture better than both Avatar and Hugo is that character, soul and emotion are paramount in its mind over visual pyrotechnics. In fact, one could argue that, outside of a few stunning visual sequences, Life of Pi is not very reliant on 3D to tell its story, and that’s probably why the technology enhances the story, rather than elevates it.
Anne Thompson, TOH!:
Scenes of breathtaking beauty have to be seen to be believed, from a simple shot of the tiger in the moonlight and several surreal mergers of sea and sky to Pi floating underwater watching the ship–his family aboard–going down. Not to mention a luminescent whale breach or sequences of thousands of flying silver fish –whirring at you in 3-D. Lee’s mastery of the aesthetics of 3-D should not to be underestimated–he considered every detail in terms of its impact on the viewer. And never have spatial relationships been more dramatic, as Pi maneuvers with a large tiger in a small life boat on a huge ocean.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire:
When the movie flashes forward a number of years to find an adult Pi (Irrfan Khan) living comfortably in Canada and recounting his incredible experience to a wide-eyed journalist Rafe Spall), “Life of Pi” introduces a sloppy framing device that instantly drags the exposition into problematic territory. Notwithstanding Pi’s constant voiceover, Lee’s insistence on returning to Pi’s austere living room throughout his tale constantly interrupts the allure of a significantly engaging parable.
Justin Chang, Variety:
For all the splendor of the craftsmanship on display, from David Gropman’s eye-popping production design to Mychael Danna’s Indian-inflected score, what’s missing is a certain in-the-moment urgency. Compressing nearly eight months into roughly 75 minutes of screentime is a tricky task, and one never gets a sense of the agonizing duration of Pi’s experience, especially since the film tastefully sidesteps most of the raw, physically extreme details that made the novel so visceral. As much as it teems with color and creativity, Life of Pi could have used a bit more grit, substance and a touch of the grotesque. Even its warm-hearted plea for religious faith feels, in the end, like so much pantheistic fairy dust.