Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yes, They Made That Into a Movie Too

New movie tie-in editions of Yann Martel's Life of Pi are appearing on bookshelves, ahead of the release of the film based on the book later in November.

In the introduction to the book, author Yann Martel talks of its genesis, how after a failed novel, he was searching for a new subject. "I have a story that will make you believe in God," a man tells him. Martel promises to listen as long as the story isn't simply about Jesus or Mohammed. Instead, it's the narrative that evolves into the novel Life of Pi. The book recounts the story of a boy who survives the shipwreck of a ship carrying zoo animals as cargo. The boy ends up stranded on a lifeboat with 450 pound Bengal tiger.

There are books that make great movies. Despite the conventional wisdom that the book is always better, there are even stories that are improved when they are turned into movies (in college I always thought Dickens novels were better on film, though that stance has not stood the test of time).

After reading the book and watching the trailer, I'm of the opinion that Life of Pi has a very good chance of succeeding as a film. The novel is first and foremost a survival adventure story rich in imagery both real and fantastic, and though under the surface its themes are many, its nothing director Ang Lee can't handle.

Ang Lee is one of the most interesting and stylistically wide-ranging directors working today. He began his career making Chinese language films about domestic situations, and then made films in English about domestic situations but in 2000 released the epic martial arts fantasy film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. After that, he couldn't be pinned down. He later directed Hulk, a creepy and underrated version of the comic book story, and Brokeback Mountain, a controversial film about a homosexual affair between two cowboys. So for Lee, directing an adventure story about a boy and a tiger trapped in a boat that's also a religious allegory and also a meditation on madness should be a piece of cake.
(See Ang Lee's wikipedia page for more.)

So go see the movie, but, if possible, read the book before you see the movie. Not only will it let you walk out of the theater with a feeling of superiority, saying things like "the book was more atmospheric," it will actually make the experience of watching the movie richer. And, if you read the book after seeing the movie you run the risk of poisoning your imagination with images from the film.

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