THERE’S no denying that Life of Pi is a marvel of modern filmmaking technology. Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yan Martel’s tale of an Indian boy adrift at sea with only a Bengal tiger for company is a reminder of how cinema can sometimes work wonders on material previously thought unfilmable.
Life of Pi
20th Century Fox, £21.99
For large chunks of the film, Lee (who picked up the best director Oscar earlier this year) is able to make the fantastical plight of its titular hero (played as a teenager by Suraj Sharma) so compelling and strange and bewildering and beautiful precisely because the tools now exist to render anything that can be dreamed up on the page on the big screen. Chief among the triumphs is the way Pi’s big cat companion, Richard Parker, is depicted not as an anthropomorphic anomaly, but as a dangerous predator with Darwinian instincts for self-preservation. It represents some of the smartest use of CGI in recent blockbuster memory, and transforms a relatively straightforward story into a truly cinematic one. It’s too bad, then, that Lee doesn’t seem to entirely trust cinema as a visual medium. A dreary framing device in which the older Pi (Irrfan Kahn) relates his life story to a “writer” (Rafe Spall) has an annoying, mood-killing habit of explaining things that Lee has already done a fantastic job of showing us on screen. That’s too bad, because in repeatedly trying to turn a visual experience back into a literary one, it makes the film seem less special.
The Great Gatsby
The difficulties of adapting literature for the big screen are very much in evidence in the 1974 Robert Redford-starring version The Great Gatsby. Re-released to coincide with Baz Luhrman’s imminent take on F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about the corruption of the American dream, it was panned on release and hasn’t improved with age. Thus while the opulent 1920s setting has been meticulously recreated and the soft-focus cinematography provides a nice hazy quality to proceedings, the darker spirit of the book fails to come through in any way. Instead, the film, which was adapted by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Jack Clayton, has been reduced to a bogus tale of thwarted love, with Redford very much in pompous movie star mode, playing Gatsby less as a character and more of a symbol of his own status as a serious actor determined to play important roles.
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