Wait a second. Were the animals in Life of Pi real? Or were they simply the fabrications of talented storytelling? No, that can't be true. How else can you explain your role on set? Surely you had to struggle with real flesh-and-blood tigers, zebras, and orangutans. As the story unfolds, however, I'll be damned if I could tell where reality ended and invention began. I just believed.
That's the beauty of Life of Pi.
The titular Pi, aka Piscine Matel (Suraj Sharma), is a young man growing up in India who embraces a smorgasbord of religions and enjoys an even more eclectic collection of animals in his father's zoo. But when times get tough and his family must move to Canada, they load their ark with animals before encountering a devastating storm. This is where your job either became incredibly difficult or didn't exist at all. Stranded on a life raft with a motley crew of mammals, Pi must find ways to survive. At the same time, we must accept what we are seeing.
Yann Martel's best-selling novel earned its label as "unfilmmable" as the story rights passed through the hands of many big directors before landing with Ang Lee. He fine tuned his ability to handle intimate performances in films like The Ice Storm, inspired awe with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and struggled with the perils of unconvincing effects on _Hulk. _All this training has lead to a beautiful adaptation that doesn't tame the prose and poetry of the book - these elements are simply the inspiration for stunning and thought-provoking imagery.
From the very first scenes, we're treated to the most immersive 3D I've ever seen (yes, better than Avatar). The colourful compositions and steady pacing give the early India-based passages a calming comfort. By the time we hit the rough seas, that's all swept away in a terrifying sequence that still manages to find unnatural beauty in a sinking ship. From there, the story enters a realm of unapologetic fantasy that never feels false. Which is important, because the threat of an artificial Bengal tiger could easily disengage us. Lee never lets this threat break his ambitions. Large, surreal moments only serve to bring us deeper into the story. He seems as comfortable with that predator as you probably are.
As a result, we get to enjoy a masterful director work at the top of his game. All the modern tools of the trade coalesce to tell a primal story about a boy and his struggle to understand life. And a few animals. Which, please tell me, were always real. They had to have been.