Friday, January 11, 2013

LIFE OF PI: The Book vs.The Movie

January 10, 2013

THE BOOK by Yann Martel


I always thought that "Life of Pi" was an inspirational book.  For that reason, I did not really intend to read it. This is the guy who took months to read "The Alchemist" and did NOT like it!  However, with the news of the new Ang Lee film which had been touted to be "The New Avatar," I wanted to read it before the movie came out.  They had called the book "unfilmable" and I wanted to see why so.  I read "Life of Pi" without really knowing what is was about.   

The first part of the book was about a young boy from Pondicherry in India, with an unwieldy name of Piscine Molitor Patel.  After being continually teased about it, he discovered later that it was way cooler to call himself "Pi."  His dad ran the local zoo. Chapters were spent describing the zoo, its animals and why zoos are good for animals.  

The narrative then turned to religions.  Chapters were spent to describe three major religions in India - Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.  There was one spectacular chapter where the Patels meet a HIndu brahmin, a Christian priest and a Moslem imam, and the debates that ensued were fascinating to read..

Then there was a sudden turn in the story when the Patel patriarch decide to migrate his family to far-off Canada.  They closed the zoo, brought with them some of their animals on a Japanese cargo ship and set sail.  Upon leaving the port of Manila though, then the real story begins as their ship sinks and Pi was set adrift on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena and an adult Bengal tiger (whom they have named Richard Parker).

From that point up to practically the end of the book, Martel describes how Pi was able to survive several months in the open sea, under the constant threat of the elements, of hunger and thirst, of sharks, and of a tiger on the boat with him waiting to eat him alive.  The battles Pi waged with nature were very graphically described.  There was a long chapter devoted to a strange island of algae and meerkats where the water turns  acidic at night.  For me, that part about the island was the most unusual of the book, it was almost too fantastic.

Pi finally reached dry land in Mexico.  Two Japanese investigators interview him about his ordeal.  At this point of the book, we get an idea of what really happened all those months at sea, or do we?

Mr. Martel is very good in the art of verbal description.  There were several chapters where you felt he was just padding the novel to make it longer.  Do we really need to know so much about the sloth for instance?  I must say that the zoo part was long, but we get to learn a lot about how to run it.  The part about the lifeboat survival, but we learn so much about sea survival technology or animal psychiatry.  The main story is the shipwreck and Pi's survival, and Martel was able to stretch this to 100 chapters.

So, this is not really an inspirational book, is it?   I believe this book is unfilmable the way it was written by Martel.  There have been films about shipwrecks and survivors before, but not described like this.  Now we get word that Ang Lee was actually able to create a film that was better than the book.  The film was described to be like "The Little Prince."  I thought this book was nothing like "The Little Prince" at all now. How Ang Lee did it, now THAT remains to be seen.



THE MOVIE by Ang Lee


I have just finished reading the book the other day, and today I got to watch the film version. With the book still so fresh in my head, I went into the cinema with very high expectations. This is specially so after reading and hearing reviews which call Ang Lee's cinematic masterpiece visually comparable to "Avatar" or philosophically comparable to "The Little Prince," as well as all of the awards buzz.

The book for me was a pleasant though slow read because of the lengthy wordy, even flowery, descriptions Yann Martel uses for his languid reflection on zoo life, his comparative study of Hindu, Christian and Moslem philosophy, and of course, his survival tale at sea by a teenager and a Bengal tiger sharing one lifeboat. It waxes philosophical in the beginning, then waxes fantastical in the middle, before settling for dry reality at the end. While a movie could probably improve on the imagery for each scene, there are several key parts of the novel that would entail a lot of narration. On the big screen, too much narration cannot be too good.

My first assumption turned out to be true. The cinematography and visual effects were expectedly first rate and excellent. Those camera angles were breathtaking. The colors were very vibrant. The special effects regarding animals were realistic for the most part, especially the land mammals, particularly Richard Parker. Though I have to say that the water creatures were too obviously computer-generated, not too good. A most triumphant sequence in the film for me were the scenes on the floating green island of algae and meerkats. I thought that was ideally visualized and executed, so much better than that chapter of the book.

My second assumptions also turned out true. A lot of the story needed to be narrated by an adult Pi Patel as he was being interviewed by a novelist researching for his next book. These bookending present day scenes were pretty dry for me. The whole last chapter of the book when Pi was interviewed by the Japanese shipping officials was all one long narration only without supporting imagery. All of this talky narration may be boring for some people. 

In order to make the film appeal to more people, Ang Lee spares us from gory details which the book was not averse to describing in graphic detail. In the film, the screen time of the zebra, orangutan and hyena was very short. For all the brutality that was supposed to have happened on board, Ang's lifeboat remains almost pristine white. I thought that was quite merciful of Ang. I wish I could also say the same for some sappy melodramatic scenes, like Richard Parker laying his head on Pi's lap, which were not in the book.

Overall, this film version of "Life of Pi" is very good, but it can be disappointing for people who have read the book. It was a loyal albeit sanitized version of the book, which is not really a bad thing. The book was not exactly inspirational to me, more educational actually. For this film, Ang Lee seemingly aspired to make this movie inspirational, and these obvious efforts may prove to backfire for some audiences.

16 comments:

  1. The book look real informative and knowing Ang Lee's image, it would be a masterpiece and using the cinematic elements to his advantage. Somehow, reading your review, I guess it should be ok that the book and movie was different in approaches as you have a good story taken from different vantage points. Now to find time to watch the movie.

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  2. The film is really nice and I can't wait to watch it on 3D... well they said it has a 3D release... Based on what you've said... I think I'm gonna read the book too!

    ian of foodfortheblogs.com

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  3. Hmmm... this seems to be too much for my brain to digest. But from this teaser, it sounds like this is just one of the many films that flopped when the book from which the story was based became a best seller.

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    1. Yeah this article is a bit too long, huh? :-) I tried to analyze both book and movie WITH NO SPOILERS, and I was surprised to have so much to say about both of them.

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  4. This film will surely make you believe with the power of the Lord. There was a scene after the storm where Richard Parker was ill and tired laying almost lifelessly in the boat. Pi rested the tiger’s head in his lap and comforted him. It's a clear representation of Pi forgiving himself and reconciling with himself and God Almighty.

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    1. Hi. I actually do NOT recall such a scene in the book. I found it a bit melodramatic when I saw it.I felt it to be trying too hard to draw the tears of the audience. But I like your interpretation of that scene. Thank you.

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  5. thank for such a thorough book and movie review. I too find The Alchemist overrated. I find The Greatest Salesman In The World far better read.

    Now I am curious about the movie but as you have pointed out, I might as well get a book copy too =)

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    1. I am glad to know that there is another one out there who thinks the same way about The Alchemist. :)

      If you are interested, here is the link to my book review of The Alchemist: http://fred-said.webs.com/apps/blog/show/6387863-the-alchemist

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  6. The original book versions usually is (especially when it's a best seller)very hard to top. However, we have to give credit to directors who really made an effort in making most of pages of the book come to life in their films (there are not many of them though).

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  7. Life of Pi is really a movie that you should not miss to watch, Ang Lee really delivers the performance from his actors.

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  8. I've been wanting to watch this movie! :) WOW!



    xoxo Raffi
    www.raffialcantara.blogspot.com

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  9. This book was recommended to me, but I didn't took much interest in it. Now everyone's raving about it, especially with a movie adaptation showing.

    I got a little confused on this part or the character really did leave here? "Upon leaving the port of Manila though.."

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    1. Hi Dems. The ship that Pi and his family had a stopover in Manila before sailing off into the Pacific Ocean. This was also mentioned in the movie!

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  10. I guess the start of the post should say: Be warned spoiler alert. :P

    Anyway, I never get to read the book which is why Im hesitant to watch the movie. But even before I intended to read the book, I've heard that to film it would take a feat to do it. But I guess, we have reached the time and age that even fantastic films like The Life of Pi is possible and we should appreciate that about this film.

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    1. Hi Ia. I tried my best to avoid spoilers. There believe are actually no true spoilers here. What I described are what we can see in the trailers. The main point of the book and the film is not written here. :)

      For my guidance, what do you consider the spoilers here? I apologize in advance

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