Part two of my summer preview session. This time we’re looking at Ang Lee’s ham-fisted forthcoming adaptation of another of my favourite novels, Life of Pi. What follows is a rant. Please be warned.
Let me start by gushing a bit about this book. It is one of most intellectually complete and artistically satisfying novels written, for my money, ever. That’s not to say its perfect; Yann Martel’s style is divisive, and can irritate and alienate some readers, but stick with it and you have an extraordinary testament of art and faith which is compelling from a scientific, psychological, spiritual, religious or literary perspective. Pi Patel, son of zoo-keepers and subscriber to three different religions, is the sole human survivor of the sunken ship bearing his family and their animals from Pondicherry to Canada. He finds himself cast adrift on a lifeboat, accompanied by an Orang-utan, a lame zebra, a Hyena and a 450-lb Bengal Tiger by the name of Richard Parker. With the width of the Pacific ocean to cross and the span of his faith to navigate, Pi realises that his survival lies in the deepest articles of faith his love of Zoology, God and Story-telling can muster.
And Ang Lee, has completely missed the point. At least, as far as the trailer tells us, The most inconsistent director in China or Hollywood has tried to “Hollywoodize” (with a big fat zeeee) a Canadian novel about an Indian boy lost in the Pacific ocean grappling with the core religions of Europe, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent. Recipe. For. Disaster.
I don’t know what to make of Ang. His opus veers wildly all over the place, from the sublime Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain to his horribly overestimated Hulk remake. This looks like a stinker, I’m afraid to say. And why is that?
Its SATURATED with CGI.
Now, there’s nothing wrong per se with Computer imagery. There’d be far fewer stuntmen in the world, to paraphrase J. J. Abrams. But it needs to advance our perception of reality, not replace it. Spielberg nearly flopped on his first attempt at big-budget film because he insisted Jaws be made at sea, rather than in a studio backlot. The sense of scale afforded by his naive ambition contributed to the scale and menace of the open, ambiguous setting that has become cinematic legend- it just wouldn’t have looked right if it was made in a tank.
So WHY OH WHY does Ang Lee appear to have rented out Beverly Hills Leisure Centre to plop his protagonists’ lifeboat in? Everything is chintzy-clean, unnaturally calm and lit like a Vogue cover-shoot. Its far too good to be true, especially for a book which is all about the sheer overwhelming force of the elements.
The Animals have also evidently never seen an animal. Animating living things is notoriously tricksy, which is why it is generally reserved for long distance, wide-angled shots (See the Hunter for a very good example). It simply isn’t the same as a real animal, especially when its made up to look all pretty and just slightly unnatural. The tiger doesn’t look real at all, thus, no clutch on reality, thus, absolutely no sense of threat from that cat. And the whale. What on EARTH were you thinking with that Whale? Sorry, Ang, big mistake.
Its laden with Hollywood plastic Cheese.
There is no sense of the central themes of the book from this trailer. This is a challenging book, with a complex central character challenging some very challenging and divisive ideas. As perhaps we are coming to expect, the film appears to a lobotomised its source material. It simply fills a load of formulaic clichés designed to look profound whilst being very, very shallow. Its “exotic”, with an Indian boy playing lead, support and foil to himself. There’s a CGI tiger too, but that looks rubbish so its basically just Pi. But of course, no self-respecting movie-salesman would let your average idiot go to see a film starring just an Indian lad and a tiger. So lets make them fall in love! At least, that’s the way it seems to be going. And just to be clear, there is no love story in Life of Pi, tiger or no tiger. Bored? Never mind. Lets throw in a Whale. A big, flouresent, utterly pointless and badly rendered CGI Whale just to ramp up the AWESOMENESS of this story. Because there’s nothing that sells for less than good old Hollywood plastic Cheese, all over a sweaty minced up burger of a script, which has been mashed into being out of a veritable cash cow. Am I being judgemental here? Maybe I am, but this is the level of cynicism and misery that this kind of adcraptation has led me and half the cinema-going population to.
The titles are a case in point. “When all you’ve ever known” “IS LOST” “You will discover” “A life of friendship”. This kind of horrible monologging is all over modern movies- its very annoying commercial psychology that puts YOU in the front row of the cinema- because Hollywood, like Uncle Sam and all the commercial, autocratic baloney that funds them wants YOU. And YOU. And YOU, too- anyone with money and a vapid mind to bleach with stupid clichéd aphorisms that miss the point of this wonderful, meditative, CHALLENGING story. Credit us with some sense.
Everything is Big and Noisy and Hollywood “Spectacle”
Life of Pi is a quiet, contemplative story. It takes in several years of rigorous monotony and somehow makes each day unique. Even in a 2 minute trailer Ang seems to have lost patience. BANG shipissinking- the one “action” sequence of the book is expressed in a single line.
“The Ship sank with a monstrous metallic burp”
Lets see you sink a ship as simply and wonderfully as that, Ang. I dare you.
Modern Hollywood cinema strategy seems to take a leaf from George Bush’s guide to the Iraq war. Its like Shock & Awe tactics on cinema-goers; think of them like little scurrying locals, all they need is some deafening noise and bright lights and they’ll be stunned into subserviently coughing up all their money to endure another magic-lantern show writ large.
BANG. Ship sinks. BANG. Drama underwater. BANG. Everything falling, jumping, flying or generally moving. BANG. CGI TIGER. MORE CGI TIGER. BANG Everyone makes friends. BANG, oh was I boring you? Well here comes a bloody CGI Whale.
Its just not fun. Its not engaging. Its missed the point and makes me very, very nervous about the rest of what is to come. Fuller judgement to follow, once I’ve summed up the courage to go see it.