Quick Take: An extraordinary story brought to life through the magic of Hollywood and its artisans.
Ang Lee’s majestic tale of survival and spirituality Life of Pi is a rare film that leaves you pondering its message for days on end. Like Hugo before it, Life of Pi is also a visual manual to effectively leveraging 3D filmmaking for enhancing rather than overshadowing a narrative.
Analogizing the Life of Pi Blu-ray 3D package in terms of finding a life partner, it’s the total package.
Told primarily via flashbacks, Life of Pi is one middle-aged Indian man’s answer to an interviewing Canadian writer looking for an extraordinary story. Pi (Irraf Khan, as an adult) promises the hungry writer that he will “believe in God” upon hearing his tale of beating the odds, which is hook enough to reel in and captivate even the most atheist ears.
Pi’s telling of the story is highly philosophical as he mixes religious encounters like ingredients to bake a cake. In young Pi’s (newcomer Suraj Sharma in an emotionally charged and brilliant performance) experience, there is a little bit of truth to all religion. This passage into Pi’s early life of adolescent exploration pays off brilliantly as the film concludes, though it feels a little like a speed bump to the first tiger meeting at the time.
At age 16, Pi is traveling with his family and their zoo animals on a freighter ship from India to Canada when tragedy strikes and the ship sinks in a violent storm. Pi is presumably the lone human survivor and finds himself stranded in a raft with a tiger amusingly named Richard Parker and a couple other doomed furry survivors. It would be nearly a year before Pi and Richard Parker escape what should have been a watery grave alongside the boy’s brother, mother and father.
Belief in Life of Pi’s extended minutes spent at sea with Pi and Richard Parker learning to survive together is paramount to buying into not only the film, but Pi’s story as well. Life of Pi won an Academy Award for its visual effects and more than earned the honor. Apart from maybe one or two tiny hiccups where something looked slightly “fake,” Pi’s time stranded at sea with the computer generated tiger is completely and utterly believable.
Whether the writer or the audience will believe Pi’s story after it pit stops on a seemingly magical island is completely up for debate. Further fueling controversy about the ending is a suggestion by the men who question Pi after he washed up on a shore that he simply replaced humans in his story with animals as a result of excessive time alone at sea. Much like different religions there are arguments to support variations of a similar story. It is ultimately up to the writer – to us – to pick out the elements from each that work best of us as individuals.
At least that is my interpretation; your mileage may vary.
High-Def 3D Presentation
It’s refreshing when a filmmaker like Ang Lee, who won the Academy Award for Best Director for Life of Pi, utilizes the 3D medium not to juice up box office profits, but to help tell a story.
Life of Pi was widely praised for its 3D visuals during its theatrical release and that presentation is also worth of applause on Blu-ray 3D. There’s plenty to love in the colorfully splashy 2D presentation as well, but 3D is where the best Life of Pi experience resides.
I want to call out a sequence in which flying fish by the hundreds leap through the sky all around Pi and Richard Parker on the boat. The 3D effect here is such that reaching out to touch the layers of fish doesn’t seem like such a ludicrous idea. There are many other amazing 3D shots of varying degrees of depth including Pi’s race to escape the sinking ship and his early encounters with Richard Parker on the boat. Despite the 3D and heavy use of CGI throughout, colors remain lush and vibrant as indicative of the Academy Award the film took home for Best Cinematography.
Life of Pi’s Blu-ray 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track pulls a similar burden as the visuals, to envelop the audience in Pi’s story without cracking the shield of believability. The vast ocean that Pi and Richard Parker spend a portion of their lives upon comes to life with the creaking of the wooden boat and subtle splashes of water. Pi can be a little difficult to understand due to his Indian accent when the amazing score is playing or during the storm and sinking sequence, but otherwise the audio mix is spot on.
Beyond the Feature
The Blu-ray 3D version of Life of Pi includes unique slipcover art featuring the nighttime whale bursting out of the water sequence. This artwork is far superior to what the Blu-ray and DVD combo pack received. Also included in the Blu-ray 3D combo pack is the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film across three discs.
Fox has incorporated numerous 3D bonus features in addition to more traditional 2D offerings, all of which are viewable in HD. The combination of 2D and 3D extras makes for a robust and well-rounded collection of supplements that should feed most appetites for additional information about the difficult task of translating and realizing the novel for the big screen.
- Deleted Scenes (13 minutes, 3D) – A total of five deleted scenes are presented in 3D including some additional footage of Richard Parker.
- VFX Progressions: The Wave Tank (2 minutes, 3D) – The first of two VFX progressions looks at the giant wave tank built for the production, comparing pre and post-production footage.
- Tsimtsum Sinking (13 minutes, 3D) – The ship sinking is an amazing sequence and this featurette breaks it down into the multiple components that together bring the scene to life.
- Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes, 3D) – The film’s trailer is offered in both 2D and 3D.
- A Filmmaker’s Epic Journey (63 minutes) – Any lingering doubt about Ang Lee’s dedication to the film washes away after this documentary. This Best Director Oscar is even more appreciated after seeing the great lengths Lee went through to get the film from concept to finished product.
- Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright (9 minutes) – Only watch this if you want the magic of bringing Richard Parker to life spoiled.
- A Remarkable Vision (20 minutes) – This offers a fantastic looks at the film’s complex visual effects for several key sequences. I am surprised it is not offered in 3D like some of the other effects-specific extras are.
- Gallery and Storyboards
Fox’s Blu-ray 3D treatment of Life of Pi ranks up there with the top Blu-ray 3D sets available today. The 3D is pronounced, the bonus feature meaty and plentiful, the story fascinating, and the cinematography and direction the “best of the best” in the year 2012. I invite anyone to watch Life of Pi for the first time on Blu-ray 3D to not only be blown away by the superb technical presentation, but also be emotionally impacted by the tale and reflect upon the ambiguous ending’s meaning long after the disc is ejected.
– Dan Bradley
Shop for Life of Pi on Blu-ray 3D combo for a discounted price at Amazon.com (March 12, 2013 release date).