Before the world premiere screening of "Life of Pi" at the New York Film Festival on Friday morning, director Ang Lee joked that his film hit the four most notorious "vices" in the moviemaking process: kids, animals, water and 3D. As it turns out, even with those built-in hindrances, Lee's adaptation of "Life of Pi" is one of the year's most beautiful, original and adventurous pictures.
Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, "Life of Pi" tells the story of Pi (newcomer Suraj Sharma), a young man who gets stranded at sea with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker after the ship carrying Pi's family and his father's zoo from India to Canada sinks. On the surface, the film is about Pi's tale of survival -- yet "Life of Pi" holds so much more within its brisk two-hour running time. As an older Pi (played by Irrfan Khan in an Oscar-worthy performance) says to the film's audience surrogate, a writer played by Rafe Spall, the story of "Life of Pi" might make some believe in God. That's obviously an exaggeration, but audiences will likely find the film enthralling nonetheless: Visually, "Life of Pi," which mixes real tigers with computer-generated effects almost seamlessly (Claudio Miranda, who shot "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," was the cinematographer), is like nothing seen onscreen in some time. The 3D in particular is the best since perhaps "Avatar."
After the film, Lee told the New York Film Festival audience that "Life of Pi" was exceedingly hard to make. Due to weather conditions and the difficulty of corralling animals, he said only one-eighth of his planned shots were actually filmed.
Still, even with the arduous shoot, Lee was able to coax an excellent lead performance from Sharma, a newcomer who originally accompanied his brother to the audition before landing the part of Pi himself after nearly six months.
"By the end of it, I didn't feel like I was acting anymore," Sharma said after the screening. "I was an instrument, of sorts, and [Lee] pulled the emotion through me. It just went in and came out."
"Life of Pi" isn't perfect -- there's a clunky moment of exposition at the end that feels entirely too on-the-nose -- but it's one of the year's strongest films. It opens the 50th edition of the New York Film Festival on Friday night and hits theaters on Nov. 21.
Check out more reactions from the premiere screenings (which took place in New York and Los Angeles) below.
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