The really great thing about Life of Pi is the most incredible job of computer generation you’ve ever seen, a tiger you simply will not believe is not the genuine furry article; after all, do the end credits not say that the Humane Society saw to it that no animals were harmed during the making of this picture? Well, maybe the Humane Society looked after the hyena and the orangutan and the big fish. But the tiger, improbably named Richard Parker, was computer generated, and so astonishingly well generated that I tremble that the day is at hand when human actors will be replaced by machines and we may not even notice.
Aside from amazement at the tiger, Life of Pi offers a first-rate boys’ adventure story of the nineteenth-century almost-fantasy type, about a teenage boy who 227 days aboard a lifeboat and a couple of jerry-built rafts after a storm, that is almost as incredible as the tiger, sinks his ship and leaves him with a tiger, an orangutan, a hyena, and a wounded zebra for company. Like Huckleberry Finn, Life of Pi has a brilliant water voyage sandwiched between good-but-nowhere-near-as-good beginning and ending sequences that in this case try to impose upon us depth and symbolism that is best regarded as just literary local color as in the days when all young-people’s literature was required to be uplifting, even religious. People who find the story unbelievable should consult some of the authenticated stories of lifeboat survival of World War II, in some of which the boats offered far less survival gear than this boy has.
Also noticeable is the sheer visual gorgeousness of the sets and costumes on land and sunsets at sea, which prepare us for the utter romance of the movie. Except for the tiger; nothing could prepare us for him.