December 17, 2012 at 12:57 PM

Pi-Eyed: Media Rare Film Review

"...what a gorgeous, gorgeous production. Ravishingly beautiful"

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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I hated the book. Hated.

But I loved the movie. It’s one of the best films I’ve ever seen. Not just this past year. Ever.

Here’s how it works out:

The book was a bestseller in 2002 and was exceedingly well-reviewed upon release, winning its young, Montreal-based author the Booker Prize for fiction. The novel remains highly regarded by discerning readers a decade later. To date, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has sold seven million copies.

It’s the story of 16-year-old Pi Patel, sailing from India to England with his zookeeper family on a cargo ship. Which sinks. He becomes trapped on a lifeboat with only a zebra, a hyena, an orangutan…and a Bengal tiger. Only two of the above are left by the end, and you can probably guess which ones.

Simple story. Large print. Wide margins.

However, as I said: Hated.

Personally—and this is totally personally—I found the details of survival at sea to be horribly much more gruesome than anticipated. Not a tea-and-cookies kind of read. As an animal-lover, I recall something appalling about a sea tortoise, far too indescribably described. But worse was a blindsiding twist ending requiring one to reassess everything in the preceding 300 pages. This clever technique often works, to wit, "The Sixth Sense," "Fight Club," "Identity," but "Life of Pi’s" trick made me angry. And nauseous.

Completely different story with the movie. Months ago, I’d had no intention of going, thinking there’d be no way to film the book with anything but a hard [R] rating. But director Ang Lee ("Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon"," The Ice Storm, " "Sense and Sensibility)" brought three great gifts to his vision: a mere [PG] rating, plus his trademark blend of emotion and vision, enhanced by the best 3-D I’ve yet seen. Like "Avatar", it’s deeply immersive, a quality that brings extraordinary veracity to, let’s face it, a boy and a cat on a boat. Quite immediate.

And what a gorgeous, gorgeous production. Ravishingly beautiful. Highly convincing CGI seamlessly interlaces with the human struggle, so much so that when the bare-bones finale arrives, it works, even though it iterates the novel’s structure.

You owe it to yourself to see it. It’s playing in 2-D and 3-D at the Regal Stadium 14 on Cerrillos (505-424-6296). Spring for the glasses on this one.

Nevertheless, the Regal is not where I went. Instead, Lisa and I caught the first show in the XD (Extreme Digital) Theater at the Century Rio 24 in North Albuquerque (800-326-3264x944). I’ve wanted to test-drive this screen for some time, and, man, this was the movie to go with.

Soon I’ll have more to say about this venue, as we’re planning to catch "The Hobbit" there. Not only is XD four stories high with bright 3-D, but it also debuts Peter Jackson’s experimental “High Frame” (48 frames per second vs. the standard 24fps), one of only 461 U.S. theaters to try out this innovative projection system.

We shall see…

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