It was said by many that this unusual novel could not be adapted cinematically - so if it was going to be done, it had to be done in style. Luckily, Ang Lee came along and did just that, creating a film that is rich, beautiful and exhilirating to watch. It's ironic that a film demonstrating the awe-inspiring majesty and horror of the natural world could only be achieved through the very different magic of CGI, yet in this case computer wizardry has done our planet proud, and great forces of nature are displayed in sublime colour and impressive 3D.
As a rule, this reviewer is left significantly disappointed by the supposed excitement of 3D technology; usually only adding the smallest of novelty factors to the film, it has in the past appeared an unnecessary and expensive addition. Yet The Life of Pi has certainly changed all that, as for the first time I saw its potential not only to enhance a film, but generate a whole new dimension (literally) of enjoyment. The chaos of the ocean storm is exhilarating and genuinely rather frightening, as the crashing waves and enormous volume of water feels tangible and dangerous. Similarly, Richard Parker is sublime (that's the tiger of course, before I get accused of lusting over some poor man...) and totally, frighteningly believable. The best thing about this CGI production is the realism that somehow pervades the film, even as the most extraordinary of events unfold, largely down to the extraordinary attention to detail shown by the animators.
Of course, it's not all about computer animation. Untrained newcomer Suraj Sharma deserves huge credit for carrying the large majority of the film's action independently, delivering a performance of sensitivity and maturity, but not missing the wry humour which gives them - and indeed the novel - its warm heart despite great loss and desperate circumstances.
Charm is also offered in the 'present day' scenes, as the older Pi (Irrfan Khan) and his visitor (Rafe Spall) provide the framing narrative, enhancing the illusion of reality. Spall once again demonstrates his incredible variety of skills as an actor, never typecast or repetitive from role to role. He is a solid support for the storytelling of Khan, whose mature and reflective Pi adeptly links the two parts of the film and delicately portrays the effect of this miraculous adventure.
This film could easily have become too long, or too flashy. Yet Lee has balanced it skilfully, creating what could more accurately be described as a work of art, as cinematography rather than acting steals the show. As the ocean around Pi glows with mysterious life forms, the scene feels weird and fantastical, yet the cruelty and harshness of life in the wild is never far away. This may not be a film to watch again and again - its strength is in its initial impact of beauty, majesty and at times oddity - but it is an undeniably impressive piece of cinema which successfully manages to blend the latest technology with a respectful awe for largely unseen phenomena of our world.