This movie image and ten minutes of unfinished 3D footage are enough for some in the movie world to proclaim ‘Life Of Pie’ as a serious Oscar contender. Not having seen the footage, I am more than curious. The book, published in 2001, which sold over 7 million copies, was thought to be unfilmable. How do you make an Indian teenage boy stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger for 227 days into a compelling film? Well, first you hire Ang Lee to make it. Judging from such overwhelming reaction, the Oscar-winning director of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ has brought to it, his signature striking visual style fused with his brand of layered emotions.
This project has been a four-year undertaking for Ang Lee. It has previously gone through years of development and the hands of some renowned directors. Until now, the technology was simply not there to achieve the tiger-in-the-lifeboat aspects of this bestseller. The studio chiefs at Fox made the point that this movie now combines all the R&D on the films ‘Avatar’ and ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ with Lee’s artistry. Lee has emphasized that the use of 3D is an “attempt to put you in the emotional space with these characters as much as the action.” He described this film as “an aventure of hope, wonder, survival, spirituality and faith.”
Lee embarked on a world-wide search and found 17-year-old student Suraj Sharma to play the titular character, Piscine Molitor Patel. 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, he has a great curiosity about how the world works. However, political changes in India cause the Patel family to move to Canada where, after a shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
The rest of the story chronicles Pi’s voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of ‘Life of Pi’. The film co-stars Gerard Depardieu, Adolfo Celi, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain and Tobey Maguire as the film’s narrator. The budget of the film is said to be US$70 million. Fox has set the release on December 21. Those who have read the book are in awe and see bringing it to the big screen as one of the most challenging cinematic efforts. In addition to his huge following, anyone who has a rough idea of the book will want to see the wonder of how Lee pulls it off.
Why is the book such a captivating and engaging read? There seems to be some very intriguing and soul-searching questions around it. How did Pi survive? By learning to live with a tiger, or learning to kill a cannibalistic cook? Pi survives longer than any other castaway. Is it survival of the fittest? Or is it part miracle, part human domination of nature? Is it an evolutionary tale, or a tale of biblical dominion? There is a story with the animals and one without animals. Which is the better story? Which do you prefer? To Yann Martel, who won the Man Booker prize for this book, ‘reality is a story and we can choose our story.’
Tackling such material is a feat that requires miracles. But Lee is no stranger to miracles. Someone who saw the ten minutes of footage excitedly declared, “put that footage as a trailer in front of ‘The Avengers’ and every single person would want to see this film.” Considering the footage featured unfinished effects, sound and a temporary score, this response is nothing short of miraculous. Lee had even modestly promised that the movie “would be even more moving and spectacular.” Over the years, the book has inspired many visuals creations of the boy and the tiger. The one movie image released by Fox has captured my imagination most. Along with many around the world, I await the arrival of Lee’s magical vision of the book.