Brow Beat

Trailer Critic: Life of Pi

Life of Pi

Still from the trailer for Life of Pi.

Adapting a beloved novel for the big screen is always a tricky venture, but perhaps especially when that novel concerns a boy shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and a bloodthirsty Bengal tiger. That’s the challenge director Ang Lee faced in bringing Life of Pi to the screen in time for this coming Oscar season, and the new trailer—posted this morning—provides our first look at the long-awaited adaptation.

While Lee has directed plenty of unforgettable moments of cinematic fantasy—recall Bruce Banner in the Utah desert in Lee’s underrated Hulk, leaping from mountaintop to mountaintop, or picture the soaring fight through the bamboo forest in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—these flights of fancy are often the same moments that leave some audiences scratching their heads. It’s Lee’s more grounded films that have solicited more unqualified praise—think Brokeback Mountain and Sense and Sensibility. Which perhaps is why 20th Century Fox cycled through names including M. Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuarón, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet—all directors best known for fantastical features—before arriving at Lee.

Here Lee once again gives us several breathtaking moments. I’m thinking especially of the moments of near silence, such as when a zebra swims past Pi (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma) below deck, or the spine-tingling second when Pi pauses deep underwater to take a last look at his sinking ship. But to me other moments come off, once again, as perhaps flying too far off into the fantastical stratosphere, as does a giant phosphorescent whale, breaching amid a green glow in the trailer’s parting showstopper. For all the anticipation surrounding this movie, it’s surprising how many of the shots consist mainly of plasticky computer-generated imagery painted over shots of a studio water tank. (Much of the movie was filmed on soundstages in Taiwan.)

Still, the premise is, of course, thrilling—tigers on a lifeboat!—and I have high hopes that the combination of Lee’s masterful hand with the themes of the Man Booker Prize-winning novel will offer plenty more quiet magic to sail above the CGI-teeming depths.
Grade: B

Previously from the Trailer Critic

The Master
Man of Steel

Oz: The Great and Powerful
Red Hook Summer
Anna Karenina

Django Unchained
Les Misérables
The Great Gatsby
James Bond in Skyfall