Life of Pi is being sold as this year's Avatar, the 3D movie explosion that must be seen on the big screen, that must be seen more than once, and that must be considered the holiday moviegoing event for the entire family. That's a whole lot of pressure, but with director Ang Lee behind it and a lot of critical raves, Life of Pi might be capable of living up to it, if not quite the history-making box office.
But is the 3D really going to be that good, especially since we've seen so many 3D bombs since Avatar first came out? That's what we're here to figure out. In the latest installment of To 3D Or Not To 3D, we bring you the full breakdown of all the elements that make 3D worth it, and help you figure out if Life of Pi deserves your extra cash. Take a look at this guide before you go see it, and let us help you save your cash-- or check out some 3D that's truly worth it.
Does It Fit? You wouldn't think so on the surface. Life of Pi is a story about a boy stranded at sea in a lifeboat, with nothing but a tiger to keep him company in the infinite ocean. Not a lot of opportunities for 3D magic there… but that's where a genius like Ang Lee comes in. Life of Pi is packed with activity and beauty, from the shipwreck sequence early on to the whale that sails over Pi's lifeboat to the island thrumming with meerkats near the end. A lot of this comes from Yann Martel's book, as it turns out, so while you might have thought the story would be totally limited in its visual scope, Lee knew all along that he'd picked a 3D winner.
Fit Score: 5/5
Planning & Effort Various directors have attempted to make Life of Pi since the book was published in 2001, and even when Lee finally committed to the project, it took him 3 years to bring it to life-- largely because of the 3D technology he was working with. Lee said that he never could have made the movie without current technology, and it's easy to see why, as he fluidly combined CGI and real effects (including several actual tigers), and plans shots entirely around 3D, even changing the film's aspect ratios to take advantage of the 3D effects. It's not just that there are moments that take your breath away with the 3D skill; it's that there are tons of them. That kind of beauty doesn't happen without rigorous planning.
Planning & Effort Score: 5/5
Before the Window This is one 3D gimmick that tends not to happen much these days, especially in live-action movies with serious themes like Life of Pi. But the wonder of this movie's 3D is that it's never afraid to give you a moment to jump out of your seat, putting all kinds of animals and faces and even weapons in front of the camera so that they appear to leap out of the screen, or before the "window" of the movie. The most stirring moment is easily when a school of flying fish leaps over Pi and the tiger in their boat, but there's also a shot in which Pi menacingly jabs a stick toward the tiger, or even when the tiger's face itself appears to be popping out of the screen. In a story that's largely limited to inside a tiny lifeboat, Life of Pi is not afraid to put it all in your face.
Before the Window Score: 5/5
Beyond the Window And yet, even with everything I just said about "before the window," this movie is even more dazzling when exploring the ocean's terrifying depths, with the 3D creating an unbelievable space of space expanding out beyond the "window" of the screen. The shipwreck sequence is the best example of this, showing Pi in his tiny boat as the massive ship containing his entire family falls to the ocean's depths. But there's also a hallucination sequence midway through the film that's almost equally spectacular, with Pi imagining various zoo animals transforming into the sea and the stars-- the 3D makes you feel just as unmoored as he is. Depth in 3D movies is usually used to express the vastness of landscapes or giant armies, but in Life of Pi it becomes psychological and often moving. The use of depth here is the best link between 3D technology and content since Hugo.
Beyond the Window Score: 5/5
Brightness Life of Pi is such a carefully designed film that there was virtually no way it would fall into that trap of lesser 3D films, where the image is so dark that, when combined with the 3D glasses, you can barely see it at all. From its opening scene in the Pondicherry Zoo Life of Pi is crammed with unbelievable color, and those colors only get richer and stranger once Pi is left at sea. There are no moments when the colors don't sparkle, but of course, a lot of this depends on the quality of the projection at your local theater-- so make sure you pick the theater with the best 3D to see this one.
Brightness Score: 4/5
The Glasses Off Test The way we use this test is pretty simple: if you dare to remove your glasses in the middle of the movie, you may notice a lot of blur around the image that's not there when you're wearing your glasses. In general, the more of that blur you see, the more 3D effect is there when you put the glasses back on. I admit, I had a hard time remembering to take my glasses off during Life of Pi because the movie was so immersive, but when I remembered, I saw exactly the blur you'd hope for. It wasn't especially prevalent, but honestly, that's not much of a problem.
Glasses Off Score: 4/5
Audience Health Life of Pi can get intense at moments, from that glorious shipwreck to some frank depictions of what many weeks of deprivation at sea can do to both a human and the tiger. But the 3D and the accompanying camera movement are definitely not going to be what's turning your stomach. This movie is made by a master. He knows better than that.
Audience Health Score: 5/5