A Book Fan’s Review of the Movie Version of “Life of Pi.”

What’s news for horror writer Paul D. Dail?

Not much to report this week.  I’m still waiting on a couple of releases that I’ve mentioned here that contain content of mine.  One of them is actually due to be released today or tomorrow, I believe, so…

What does the future hold?

Next Friday, I’ll put up a link to Somewhere in the Shadows, where I was asked to write the foreword.  And because it is simply the foreword (both to the anthology and on my thoughts on the state of horror in general), and not a specific story in the anthology, I’ll be posting it here to pique your interest.

But without further ado…

If you’ve perused my blog, you would know that the book Life of Pi by Yann Martel made it into my Top 10 Books that Have Inspired Me.

From that post:

[Life of Pi is] Another one my wife introduced me to, and this story found me at just the right time and appealed to me on multiple levels.  As a child, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, and even after letting go of that idea, I’ve still always loved and been fascinated by animal science, so I loved the zoo and animal behavior discussions.  And I could relate to the main character’s quest for a god, in his case through an interesting choice of the combination of Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.  I liked this idea so much that when I taught the book at a school for troubled teens, I combined it with a crash course of multiple discussions of various world religions.  But beyond all of that is a captivating story about an Indian boy, the son of a zookeeper, stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger.  The ending is a beautiful and poetic slug in the stomach.  Besides the novels I’ve taught in my English classes, this is the only book I’ve read more than twice (I’ll have to think about that one, but I’m pretty sure it’s the case).      

So with all of that in mind, I was obviously trepidatious when it came to the movie version, especially when they were advertising it as “a visual spectacle” and “the next ‘Avatar.’”  I knew that there was obvious fodder in this novel for great visual moments, but it was so much more than that, and I was concerned that they were going to disregard the story in a quest for the spectacle.

However, the movie did not disappoint.  Not me at least.  I can imagine that if you went to see it after only watching the trailers and not reading the book, you might’ve been disappointed that you didn’t see “the next ‘Avatar.’”  This is another example of poor marketing, in my opinion.  I think this is what also caused poor reception of M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘Lady in the Water,’ which was not the horror movie the trailers made it out to be.

But anyway, as I was saying, no disappointment here.  The movie stayed as close to the book as the 2 hours and 18 minutes would allow.  The actors fit my envisioning of them from reading the book (and funny enough, the actor playing “the author” looks pretty close to a young Yann Martel), and while I haven’t seen Irrfan Khan (the adult Pi Patel) in anything else, he did an amazing job with the subtleties of his part.

I would’ve liked to have seen more of the discourse from the novel about the science behind why zoos work.  For me, this lent to the suspension of my disbelief when it came to a boy training a Bengal tiger, but I understand the time constraints (and I’ve also heard many people complain that this part of the book bored them.  It must just be the boyhood veterinarian in me that was fascinated by this section).

I also was a little sad that they didn’t show one of my favorite scenes in the book, when all three of Pi’s religious instructors meet by accident and realize that he has been practicing the different religions simultaneously.  After much furor and insistence that Pi can’t do what he’s been doing, he responds, “I’m just trying to love God.”

There weren’t many embellishments.  I don’t remember the mention of Pi’s “girlfriend” before leaving India in the book, however, they make it work.  I also don’t remember the whale, but this obviously was part of the “visual spectacle.”

[A word before I continue.  The visual aspects of the movie were amazing.  I didn’t go to the 3-D version because those glasses make me crazy, but I don’t think you need to in order to appreciate what Lee has done with this movie.  It was at moments visually beautiful, breathtaking and terrifying.  And definitely one to be seen on the big screen.]

There is also an additional scene that I don’t remember from the book that shows a little of the tension between Pi’s family and the cook (played by Gerard Depardieu) on the freight boat that carried the animals from India.  Without giving away much, I will say that this scene, while seemingly minor, is important.

Overall, I would say this is as close to a book as I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time.  And I was so glad I got the opportunity to see it.

There is one thing I’m still not sure about, but it comes with a…

SPOILER ALERT:

The ending.  At first I was wondering if they were going to do the ending.  They had to, right?  That was my aforementioned “beautiful and poetic slug in the stomach.”  If you’ve read the book, it makes you watch the details with the animals a little more closely.  I can’t remember if the order was exactly this way in the book, but the connection between Pi and Richard Parker was blatantly obvious when Pi is enraged and getting ready to take on the hyena, but suddenly Richard Parker lunges from under the tarp and attacks the hyena instead.

Anyway, the ending. This is just my personal opinion, but when Pi tells “the other story” in the book, I always visualized it, as disturbing as it was.  So when it came to the ending of the movie, I wanted to see it on the screen, even if it was just silent images in the background with Pi’s face overlaid telling the story (like they had done in other parts of the movie) instead of him just lying in the hospital bed telling the investigators.  I guess I can understand why they made that choice, but for me, the lack of seeing it (and honestly, missing a few things he said as a result of his accent) took away some of the power.

But again, I guess I understand.  It’s not “the better story.”  So they kept it flat.

And honestly, compared with everything else, it wasn’t enough to tarnish my opinion of the movie.

What do I want from you?

Read the book?  Seen the movie?  What did you think?

Any other movies based on books that you felt were very true to the book?

Don’t forget to check back next week for my foreword/commentary on the state of horror.

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11 responses to “A Book Fan’s Review of the Movie Version of “Life of Pi.”

  1. Erik Gustafson

    If I had blogged about The Life of Pi, I think I would have brought up most of these points as well. I did not like the ending at all and it nearly put me to sleep. But I absolutely loved the movie other than that. I wanted to turn around and go back to see it again as soon as it was over. Definitely not the next Avatar.

    • Hey Erik, thanks for the comments. Not normally my material here, but I try to stay versatile in my posts (plus it was on my list of inspiring books). So yeah, the ending wasn’t what I was hoping, but I agree that overall it was great.

      Thanks again. Hope all is going well for you and the short story competition.

  2. Hi Paul,
    I did not read the entire book. I have it somewhere in my back library and bought it out of curiosity when helping out at a school book fair when it was quite new.
    I was knee deep in researching WWII an I found it hard to get into; (which for me is quite rare), but because it was not in tune with what I was working on.
    We went to see the movie, in 3-D (we are big fans); my son (14) and husband loved it. SPOILER ALERT The “other story” left me with a haunted sad feeling and visualizing Gerard Depardieu and not the Tiger entering the Mexican Jungle.
    As beautiful as the images were and as much as I enjoyed his religious quest, it left me feeling empty and very sad. It must mean it was very well made to touch so deep.

    • Catalina,

      So good to hear from you. You really should finish the book. SPOILER ALERT (WELL, KIND OF): The ending of the book was much better and more powerful. There was certainly a sadness, but at the same time, it took its time, and there was definitely more of an uplifting sense to it. It was horrible what happened, but he had come to peace with it (and his better story). His final line, “And so it goes with God,” has much more resonance. For me, it’s hard to read (or in your case go back to) a book after seeing the movie, but in this case, I think it’s worth it.

      Thanks again. Hope everything is going well for you with Bride of Deaths. Seems that you are keeping very busy. So glad to hear it.

  3. Your wife was the one to recommend this book to me. As your wife and I have very different tastes in literature, it took me a while to get around to reading it. I remember when I finished the book, I put it down and just sat in stunned silence for a while. The ending floored me. I wasn’t sure what I thought about the book for a long while. Now after a few years of churning the book around and around in my head, I can honestly say this book is spectacular and disturbing. Kind of like “The Road”. Absolutely one of the best books I have read, but not one I would read again.
    I am afraid to see the movie. Anything advertised as the next Avatar isn’t my cup if tea. However, after your review I think I will go see it. Thanks Paul.

    • Hey Kodi,

      Thanks for your comments. I didn’t know you read it. Interesting comparison with The Road. I can see that in tone, although I thought there was a little more hope at the end of Life of Pi. You’ll have to see my comments to Catalina for more on this (or at least how it felt different than their handling in the movie). But I think you should see it. Again, I think it was poor advertising. But who knows? I haven’t seen Avatar, so maybe it was :)

      Hope you’re well and to see you before the end of the year.

  4. Sarah Clark

    I’m so glad I read this review, Paul, especially since you were the one who introduced me to the book while I worked in your classroom at that treatment center. I saw one of my favorite movie reviewers didn’t like the film, and it’s good to know that someone who read and really enjoyed the book did like the movie. We haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t wait. I’m thinking I’ll read the book again before I go. I think of it so often.

    • Hey Sarah! Good to hear from you, and glad you enjoyed the review. Hope you get a chance to see it in the theatre. Jennifer and I have been to roughly two movies in the past year, so it was quite the event (although, we may be going super crazy and actually going to see The Hobbit. Look out, world. The Dails are stepping out :))

      I look forward to talking with you more after you see it. Hope all is going well for you and the fam. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I’m glad you reviewed the movie. My daughter wants to see it and I’ve been debating spending the $18/ticket to see it in the theater. If I can wiggle out some time, I guess I’ll take her!

    • Hey Marie, thanks for the comment. $18 a ticket? Whew! I loved the book, but I might’ve debated it at that cost, too. If you make the sacrifice, I’ll be curious to hear your thoughts.

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