When watching, reviewing and analysing films it’s important to understand auteur theory, the idea that the author of a film is generally considered to be the director. A film is a natural extension of the director’s mind, and they are the single, visionary, creative force behind it. When thinking of the films of Quentin Tarantino; Terence Malick; or Paul Thomas Anderson it is difficult to argue with this idea.
However, people such as William Goldman (writer of the The Princess Bride) have made the case that there are so many people involved with shaping a film that describing any single one of them as its ‘author’ in the same way we do with literature is over-simplifying the case.
Films like The Social Network come to mind where Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue is central to the films appeal, but David Fincher’s direction is still evident; or perhaps we could look at Mike Leigh’s films (Secrets and Lies, Vera Drake , etc.) where there is no script, and actors must come up with their own lines in rehearsals in a bid to make dialogue more naturalistic.
All of this is a very long way round to saying Ang Lee is probably going to get a lot of credit for Life of Pi since it captures pretty much everything that made the book so popular upon its release.
Lee’s colours, effects and wonder of the film perfectly capture the fairy tale nature of Yann Martel’s work; and make us believe in a world where tigers, humans, zebras, hyenas and orangutans are the only survivors of a shipwreck in the pacific.
Yet, as much as Lee should be congratulated for his technical work with the film, every idea, magical moment, and wonderful turn of phrase is lifted almost straight from the book. Is that a good thing?
Yes… and no. While it makes for a very enjoyable film it fails to give the viewer something sufficiently different from the book to make the whole thing worthwhile from an artistic point of view.
“But aren’t films and books different already?”
Well yes, they are. However, my opinion is that this has more in common creatively with a remake of a film than it does of other fantastic and artistic adaptions like Baz Lurhmann’s Romeo and Juliet or Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying, don’t go and see Life of Pi, read the book instead. If you’ve already read the book, it’ll be everything you imagined… what a truly terrible thing!