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With Life of Pi, director Ang Lee presents a project difficult to imagine bringing to the screen. Taking place largely at sea, the film tells the story of a shipwrecked teenager (Suraj Sharma) and a zoo tiger. The film is based on the 2001 novel by Yann Martel, which sold 7 million copies and claimed the prestigious Man Booker Prize.
The film from Fox holds an 87 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is tracking to debut to a five-day Thanksgiving weekend, with returns in the $30 million range.
Below are what some of the top critics had to say about the film.
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy opined though the film would have been “inconceivable” a decade ago due to technological limitations, it succeedes thanks to new visual effects possibilities and Lee’s directing.
“Ang Lee, that great chameleon among contemporary directors, achieves an admirable sense of wonder in this tall tale about a shipwrecked teenager stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, a yarn that has been adapted from the compellingly peculiar best-seller with its beguiling preposterousness intact,” McCarthy wrote.
“The leap of faith required for Lee to believe this could be put up onscreen in a credible way was necessarily considerable. His fingerprints are at once invisible and yet all over the film in the tact, intelligence, curiosity and confidence that characterizes the undertaking.”
PHOTOS: The Making of ‘Life of Pi’
In his four-star review in the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert called the film a “miraculous achievement of storytelling” and deamed it one of the year’s best films. Ebert also found himself surprised by how much he liked the film’s use of 3D.
“I’ve never seen the medium better employed, not even in Avatar, and although I continue to have doubts about it in general, Lee never uses it for surprises or sensations, but only to deepen the film’s sense of places and events.”
Ebert added: “The movie quietly combines various religious traditions to enfold its story in the wonder of life. How remarkable that these two mammals, and the fish beneath them and birds above them, are all here.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern praised the mostly CG creation that was the tiger called Richard Parker.
STORY: Why Fox Gambled $100 Million on Ang Lee: The Making of ‘Life of Pi’
“In one sense this fully believable CGI creation is a wonder of technology, and a tribute to the current state of the animation arts. Yet the greater significance of Richard Parker is that he’s fully integrated into the film, and a tribute to the director’s virtuosity,” Morgenstern wrote. “Here, working from an intricately literary source, he [the director] has visualized, convincingly and completely, a magical world in which a dying man clings to his planet, and a tiger burns bright, night and day.”
New York Times critic A.O. Scott also praised the tiger as a powerful force in the story.
“Unlike just about every other cartoon animal you can think of, Richard Parker, despite his name, is never anthropomorphized, never pulled out of his essentially predatory nature,” he wrote. The relationship that develops between him and Pi is therefore a complicated one, involving fear and competition as well as (on Pi’s end, at least) compassion and love.”
But Scott questioned what seemed to be the film’s thesis—that the unverse is a generally benevolent place, a conclusion which Scott wrote ”can feel more like a result of delusion or deceit.”
PHOTOS: Fall Movie Preview 2012: Major New Releases From Spielberg, Jackson, Tarantino, the Wachowskis, Burton and More
“The movie invites you to believe in all kinds of marvelous things, but it also may cause you to doubt what you see with your own eyes — or even to wonder if, in the end, you have seen anything at all,” Scott wrote.
Slate’s Dana Stevens was among the few critics not enamored with the film, writing in her review’s opening sentence the film “might be a good movie to see stoned—or maybe it’s just one that makes you feel as though you already are stoned.”
“The long middle section—the movie’s strongest stretch— plays like a hallucinogenic mashup of Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, the reality show I Shouldn’t Be Alive, and a soothing promotional video that might play on a loop in the waiting room of a very fancy Ayurvedic spa,” she wrote.
Stevens praised the film’s crisp visuals but found its final 20 minutes to be dull, a section in which the “movie’s energy peters out in a series of book-club conversations about divine will, the power of storytelling, and the resilience of the human spirit.”
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