Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Remember ten years ago when they said that in the future anything will be possible in cinema to manipulate images and create dramatic effects that are indistinguishable from reality? Well, that day is here. LIFE OF Pi, based on Yann Martel's bestselling book that circulated in library reading groups for years, has come to the screen in astonishing vividness. Certainly the story could not have be told as a film in the way it now appears, back when the novel was published. What a triumph of storytelling, where special effects and 3D imaging are not merely in service of explosions, chase scenes, and comic book melodrama. The allegorical story about an Indian boy trying to cope with the loss of his family is invoked by his questing imagination and sensitivity, and has reach beyond itself into the realm where larger questions about human existence are asked. How insubstantial and meaningless those comic book heroes seem by comparison to this! The tale, as told to a reporter in two forms, perfectly dovetails with the character's own internal dialogue, and could hardly have been told any other way. There are early clues to the magic which only later resonate in retrospect, and pull the film into a perfect puzzle box of visual delights that linger on. I shall never forget the look of that tiger's eyes, staring into Pi's in a dreamlike ocean, as the clue about "reflecting back" one's emotions reverberates. The movie version has won several Oscars, including visual effects and best director, and has all the elements of great storytelling fully realized on the screen, most important of which (beyond simple emotional identification with the main character) significance and scope. How did they do it so believably? The magic of computer animation is so powerful now that the fake seems indistinguishable from the real. The miracle of technology, brought together organically with the vision of a director in concert with the writer, and with actors who never over-dramatize their lines. It all proves once again that you don't need to toss around silly one-liners and random gunfire when you have a real story already alive on the page. All you have to do is tell it in a unique way, and step back for the audience to be awed. In you haven't read the book, I recommend hearing it in full as narrated by Jeff Woodman.
(Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell below:) 

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