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Life of Pi (3D)

9/10

Stars: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Rafe Spall, Tabu, Gérard Depardieu, Adil Hussain

Director: Ang Lee

A beautifully crafted and technically astounding film from the best-selling novel about an Indian youth, Pi (Sharma, in an impressive debut), sole survivor of a shipwreck, marooned in a lifeboat with only a ferocious Bengal tiger for company.

The boy's father and mother (Hussain, Tabu) had been transporting their zoo to Canada and a new life. But the ship is caught in a savage storm and sinks rapidly. A few of the animals end up on Pi's raft: a zebra with a broken leg, an orang-utan mourning its young and an aggressive, yelping hyena, which finishes off the zebra, kills the orang utan, and rushes at Pi. Then the tiger emerges from the canvassed section of the boat and eats the other animals.

Fearing a similar fate, Pi evacuates to an attached provision raft-unit and squats there while the tiger, whom he calls Richard Parker owing to a confusion of names when the beast was delivered, glowers from the boat. But tigers, of course, are good swimmers, and it seems only a matter of time before Richard Parker gets hungry enough...

The rest of the film, full of stunning, shimmering shots of nighttime calm and daytime heat, concerns Pi's attempts to somehow come to terms with the tiger, as they survive storms, a blizzard of flying fish and a visit to a strange island full of meerkats.

There are anomalies concerned with the latter which surface towards the end, but it's a spellbinding tale nonetheless, even though a lot of its effects, including the animals, are of course, artificial, as evidenced by the hundreds of digital artists credited at the end.

Sharma is splendid as the boy, but the jewel in the film's crown is the heartbreaking performance of Khan as the boy's older self - a fine actor at his best, as he tells his story to a Canadian journalist (an on-form Spall). Only a faintly disappointing twist ending deprives this magical film of a tenth star.

David Quinlan

USA 2012. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox. Technicolor/Print by deluxe.
127 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: PG.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 16 Dec 2012