Initially dismissed as “unfilmable”, Life Of Pi gained momentum as Ang Lee took to animating a vision beyond what the conventional screen may contain. Though neither 3D nor special effects are new to our ever changing digital landscape, little precedents exist where they became absolutely instrumental to making a film possible.
Without the multi-dimensionality seen across that piece of plastic glasses we normally recycle after screening, the audience would have no access to Life Of Pi’s supposed realm of mind, amongst which is the vastness of the ocean. From a glass half full, the ocean is so magnificent that it incorporates everyone and everything against discrimination. Classified human beings and animals alike inhabit the same domain unobstructed by societal hierarchy that might force them apart otherwise. From a glass half empty, Pi appears so helpless in the context of an expansive ocean that even if he evaporates the next day, not a ripple would form in remembrance as the Pacific peacefully breaks apart his soul.
Worry endures that 3D lacks what it takes to do a story heavily imbedded in spiritual allegories justice. The last we want is a film that scrapes by psychological elements for the sake of flamboyant excitement while missing out on the actual point. Such is not the case for Life Of Pi, where stormy turbulence is but a needle peaking through the ocean’s overall tranquillity. The 3D format sheds light on apparent calmness while creating depth to an otherwise static boat, man, and tiger mis-en-scene that prolongates through two-thirds of the entire film.
3D’s forte lies in the extra space which allows Lee to place flashbacks, hallucinations, and realities into one arena intercepting our senses at the same time. Such melting pot is his way of optically explaining the unclear distinction between reality and fantasy. For example, Pi’s subtle stare into the never-ending horizon would not be nearly as meaningful without perceivable 3D proportions that materialize his observations. As the screen seamlessly meshed around fore and backgrounds in a play on dimensions, Pi’s journal crystalizes with a memory montage of the subject of his writing juxtaposed against the actual pages.
The spectacle in Life Of PI—vibrant landscapes, phosphorescent effects and a mesmerizing neon kaleidoscope encapsulating the rising and setting sun—makes a statement without taking away the story’s symbolic connotation. The classic shipwreck, deserted island, and mighty antagonist facing our usual hero are interiorized in Pi’s world through the 3D prism of his mind. The fantasy in Life of Pi arises not from the confusing nature of sea drifting, but from the fact that the version we see is refracted through fragmented rays of older Pi’s unreliable memory. That the displayed is not a live performance but a broken recollection of an emotionally charged past rejuvenates the illusion enabled by a 3D technology that has long failed to impress.