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Review: A Second Slice of "Pi."
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By Erich Vandussen
Erich Van Dussen's film reviews have been featured in newspapers and magazines, on the radio, and online for more than 20 years. He lives in the Finger Lakes region.
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There are films worth seeing, and films worth seeing on a big screen. And then there are films that make it worth going out and investing in a 60-inch plasma TV with surround sound, just to make sure you can experience them in all their glory. Life of Pi is one of those last ones: A brilliant adaptation of a supposedly un-adaptable novel; a visual epic with imagery rich enough to raise your cholesterol level just watching it; and – oh yes – the best film of 2012.

Fresh off winning an armful of Academy Awards last month, director Ang Lee’s latest in a laudable string of masterful films has returned temporarily to area theaters, and DVD and Blu-Ray editions will hit the streets on March 12. If you haven’t watched Life of Pi yet – or even if you have – your viewing options may never be so plentiful again.

When Yann Martel’s novel was published in 2001, the hauntingly descriptive prose of Life of Pi fairly dared filmmakers to give it a try: We wanted to see Pi Patel, the shipwrecked Indian teen, sharing a lifeboat on the Pacific Ocean for 227 days with Richard Parker, a displaced Bengal tiger. But there’s a reason a tiger has never been nominated for Best Actor – let’s say they’re, um, resistant to the subtle direction that brings out great film performances – and computer-generated imagery hadn’t yet evolved enough to make a digital Richard Parker feasible.

What a difference a decade makes. With the CGI gurus of visual effects company Rhythm & Hues backing him up, Lee was free to bring Martel’s story to life in sumptuous detail. Told in flashback, the story picks up with young Pi (Suraj Sharma) at his family’s zoo in Pondicherry, India, where the inquisitive teen bonds with the animals as he explores Hinduism, Christianity and Islam: “I just want to love God.”

When the zoo closes, the family and animals travel by ship for a new life in Canada – until something goes wrong, and Pi and a handful of incompatible beasts are the only survivors on that lifeboat. Pi’s odyssey with Richard Parker is a triumph of visual storytelling, as we follow their travails through rough seas, near-death from starvation and thirst, and a series of fantastic experiences that beggar description.

By viewing the journey through the lens of a middle-aged Pi’s memory, we’re freed from too much worry over the eventual fate of our hero, which allows us to sit back and soak in the sights and sounds of his trip. We share Pi’s revelations, too, as the adventure yarn slowly reveals its true identity as a tale of personal philosophy and religious discovery. Life of Pi is the sum of all these parts, and a ripping good time.

Life of Pi. Starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan. Written by David Magee, from a novel by Yann Martel. Directed by Ang Lee. Rated PG (parental guidance suggested), for adventure peril. 10

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