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Perhaps no better director than Lee for Life of Pi

Chet Greason, Popcornucopia

Life of Pi is a film for bibliophiles; one of those direct ports from page to film that book-lovers cherish. It would almost seem like the old days of “movie versions” has passed.

Take, for example, Jurassic Park. Based on a book, the film kept key elements and characters from the book but, plot-wise, was completely different. In fact (spoiler alert!) with the exception of Grant, Ellie, Nedry, and the two kids, everyone who lives in the movie dies in the book, and vise-versa.

It was one of those inexplicable things mainstream Hollywood filmmakers used to do, feeling either that they needed to distance themselves from the source material, or insert tired movie plot elements so the non-reading audiences would feel comfortable not being taken down roads they weren’t used to.

And it didn’t just happen to books either. Look at the movie translations of Cabaret (stage musicals), Super Mario Brothers (video games), and Masters of the Universe (crappy cartoons used to market a toy line)…you’ll find all three have little to do with the originals.

At some point, all this changed, and filmmakers began making direct translations of source materials. I credit the online world of fan culture, with ardent supporters of the original medium going up in arms because directors didn’t include certain elements in the film versions. I remember the furor that came up when Zak Snyder, a director renowned for panel-by-panel graphic novel adaptations, tweaked the ending of the Watchmen film (personally, I thought it was an improvement. His “heroizing” of everyman Night Owl II? Not so much…but that’s a different article.)

Life of Pi is a scene-by-scene adaptation of the 2001 book by Yann Martel. Really, this was the only way to adapt the book. It was a story that desperately longed for visuals; that almost seemed restricted by words and screamed for colour. All of the elements of the original story are there, even the obtuse ending.

One thing I had a difficulty with in Martel’s book was the physics of the setting. Either through Martel’s words or my limited comprehension, I just couldn’t get a clear picture of the dimensions of Pi and the tiger’s boat; of who stayed where and how Pi’s miniature raft functioned. This, quite obviously, is remedied with the film.
As mentioned, Life of Pi needed colour, so hiring director Ang Lee, a master of stunning visuals, was a brilliant move. Pi’s story, on film, is one piece of eye candy after another, all hyper hues and majestic vistas. There probably isn’t a better director out there to tell this story.

A lot of hype is being made about the 3D in Life of Pi, with one critic saying it’s the best use of the medium since Avatar. Unfortunately, I didn’t find the 3D that compelling and, like most 3D films, I forgot it was even in the third dimension after a while. If you have a chance to see Life of Pi in 2D, I say take it. You’re not missing that much.

Fans of the book will love the movie. Meanwhile, I think I’ve got a good ‘list’ article for an upcoming column: “Film versions that were nothing like the originals.” I’ll start researching. I’d be happy to hear from readers which films they remember as being totally different from the book, game, or TV show. Email your suggestions to cgreason@stmarys.com.

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