Let us get the first thing out of the way. Is the movie better than the book? I cannot say that the movie is better than the book - it does great justice to the book though.
The first two-thirds of the movie held me in thrall. The early sequences when Pi's mother narrates the story of Yashoda and Krishna and the camera turning to pages of the comic books reduced me to tears of joy. I had to remove two layers of spectacles - first the 3D glasses and then my prescription glasses to wipe my tears off. On the other hand, the book made me cry towards the end when the journey ends and Richard Parker leaves without turning his head to say good bye. I distinctly remember how moved I was after reading the book - I called up my best friend and bawled out saying how unfair it is that Richard Parker had to leave like that. I even promised myself that if ever I have a pet, I would call it Richard Parker - that coming from someone who hates pets.
Coming back to the film, the opening titles are the best I have come across in a while. The dinner table conversations in a middle-class Indian household, the discussions around religion, a child's systematic exposure to various faiths, the transformation of a child reading comic books to an adolescent reading classic novels (Pi turns the pages of another all-time favorite book of mine, Albert Camus's 'The Stranger'; it is a very short novel and I recommend it to you all) - all these were very realistically portrayed. The first half of the film depicts the life of Indian middle-class in a very authentic way. I can't stop myself from saying that this is realest India the West has been shown till date - not the land-of-elephants-and-snake-charmers depiction of the last century (inspite of the movie actually showing elephants and snakes), the IT stereotype that has come to pass in this millennium or the ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ extreme. The movie mixes wit and Philosophy, religion and rationality in a very intelligent and comprehensible manner. Example: When a character asks Pi how he could take to so many religions at the same time - "Faith is a house with many rooms"... "Is there no room for doubt?"
I thought the movie gets a bit hurried after the meerkat island episode. The whole concept of the Unreliable Narrator with the alternate story of what happened after the ship sank - both in the book and the movie - is brought out in a wicked and mischievous way. If you are wondering why this long rant doesn't discuss at all about the visual effects and performances, I think the visual effects are a given. You can find other reviews telling you how wonderful they are and all that sort of thing. The actors who play Pi - all three of them come up with very convincing performances. Katharine Hepburn fervently disliked Meryl Streep's acting stating that she could "recognize Streep's constant search for tactics during a performance". The same can be said about Tabu. The effort shows!
'Life of Pi' is an immensely uplifting movie. Take your children to watch it - not because it is a children's film but because it is a very intelligent film that has to be watched with the entire family. If the movie wins the Oscar for the Best Picture in February, remember that I said it first.
3.5 out of 5 Stars