Life of Pi [Blu-ray] (2012)

Actors: Luke Pasqualino, Ben Cotton, Lili Bordan, Mike Dopud, John Pyper-Ferguson
Director: Jonas Pate
Producers: Jonas Pate, David Eick, Michael Taylor
Format: AC-3, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Universal Studios
Release Date: February 19, 2013
Run Time: 188 minutes




Is The Life of Pi science fiction? We briefly debated that subject before embarking upon our review of the gorgeous new Blu-ray. It certainly doesn’t fit the category in the traditional sense . . . but then again, it similarly confounds any other category one tries to peg it with.

It evades easy explanation: a wondrous tale of survival and faith that challenges our notions of the possible. More than anything else, it’s a work of philosophy, asking us to re-examine our place in the universe and how the seeming cruelties of this world may yet serve some higher purpose. Through the prism of what we see, it could be fantasy, reality or somewhere in between. On that plane, we discover ourselves, and maybe find the answers to a few other things in the bargain.

Without a doubt, this movie could not have been made without director Ang Lee. The source novel by Jann Martel defies any attempt at visualization, and yet Lee not only realizes it, but does so with utmost care for its purpose and structure. As an adult man, Pi (Irrfan Khan) relates the tale of how he survived over two hundred days in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. He and his family travel to Canada from India across the Pacific, until a massive storm claims all but the two of them. To survive, Pi (played as a youth by Suraj Sharma) must not only fend off the tiger, but keep the beast alive as well, a curiously moral decision that throws him headfirst against the face of the cosmos.

And what a cosmos it is!

Lee’s team (headed by the now-defunct Rhythm and Hues, who never saw a dime of this film’s profits) redefines the potential of visual effects. As spectacle, it may not have a peer, surpassing even such high-flown effects pieces as Avatar and Prometheus. More importantly, Lee applies it in ways that no other filmmaker could conceive: a never-ending wave of gruesomely real naturalism and full-bore hallucinations that merge and meld until we cannot tell the two apart. Pi’s journey becomes a vision quest to find meaning and the filmmakers spare no tool in delivering it to us. If you need proof that special effects are more than empty images, Life of Pi delivers it straight from the source.

Nowhere is this more notable than with Richard Parker himself, so perfectly realized that you can’t readily tell where the real tiger ends and its CGI stand-in begins. Not that one can easily look; Lee focuses on the creature as a character first and an effect second. Like Andy Serkis’s mo-cap creations, we soon stop trying to spot the smoke and mirrors and simply buy into this enormous cat on the lifeboat. It’s an exhilarating experience, made all the more extraordinary by the grand musings surrounding it.

Those musings paid off at the Oscars, where Lee stole a seemingly assured Best Director win from Steven Spielberg and the film itself walked off with more awards than any other. It fully deserves such praise, as well as the attentions of anyone who believes in the power of pure cinema. Life of Pi harnesses that power to extraordinary effect, not just to dazzle us (though it does that quite well) but to tackle some pretty substantive questions in the bargain.

THE DISC: A stunningly good release as befits such a visual marvel. The images are clean and sharp, reflecting Lee’s decision to shoot the film digitally, while the sound quality matches that of any action film currently on the market. The disc’s additional features are insightful and engaging, topped by an hour-long documentary about Lee’s efforts to shoot the picture and a brief but fascinating piece on bringing Richard Parker to life.

WORTH IT? Life of Pi ranks among the best films of 2012, and the Blu-ray set does justice to its status.

RECOMMENDATION: Though too frightening and esoteric for younger viewers, serious minded teens and adults will find Life of Pi impossible to resist.

- Rob Vaux



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