Why is Ang Lee so determined to make ‘Life Of Pi’ as a film?

04.28.10 7 years ago 5 Comments

Focus Features

Ang Lee is close to getting the go-ahead to finally bring the bestelling novel Life Of Pi to the bigscreen, and current plans are for the film to be a 3-D FX heavy affair.  The proposed budget of $70 million doesn’t sound like much, relatively speaking for the studio system, but I’m willing to bet they lose all $70 million if they’re really betting on this as a box-office hit.

I love Ang Lee.  I’ve been a supporter of his even when I haven’t loved the end results.  As most people were arguing over “LA Confidential” or “Titanic” as the best film of 1997, I personally felt like “The Ice Storm” dusted both of them.  Even if I don’t play the Oscar game, I can understand why “Brokeback Mountain” was such a key player in the race the year it was released.I was a vocal advocate for his much maligned “Hulk,” and I still defend it, convinced it’s a film that aims high and almost pulls it all off.  When I wrote my list of the “50 Best Films Of The Decade” in December, I gave the top spot to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”  And I still think people just plain missed out when it comes to “Lust, Caution” and “Ride With The Devil,” although there’s at least a Criterion release of the latter film available now.

So why am I positively aghast at the notion of this film finally making it out of development hell and in front of the cameras?

First, I think it’s worrisome to read that they’re looking to make this as a CGI-heavy big colorful fantasy film.  Here’s what Anne Thompson wrote after speaking to producer Elizabeth Gabler about what

“the film will be:

“Gabler and the filmmakers are lining up a big budget well north of $70 million for a 3-D magical fantasy adventure crammed with visual effects. There”s a shipwreck, the ship sinks, and a teenage boy is launched overboard and climbs into a life raft with a zebra, hyena and a tiger. There are many CG animals (whales, fish, meercats) plus ocean and atmosphere.  ‘It has a gigantic visual effects component,’ says Gabler.  ‘You can”t put a live tiger in a boat with a child. It has elements of Cast Away, when the kid is alone in the boat. You don”t need language to convey what”s on the screen. We need to make the movie for the whole world.'”

I don’t mean to sound like a jerk here, but has Gabler actually read the book?

Life Of Pi is not a fantasy adventure.  It’s a metaphorical nightmare.  What actually happens in that boat… not what is described initially, but what is actually going on… is anything but fun.  Or fantastic.  I think the book is very well-written, vividly rendered, and compulsively readable.  I also think it ends in a twist so over-the-top that it would anger most film audiences.  It’s a literary conceit, and as such, I think it works better on the page than it would onscreen, and I’m still not convinced it actually worked on the page.

There are some books that blindside readers, and they decide that the book should be a movie without realizing the inherent difference between something you read and something you watch.  They affect you in totally different ways.  What might be a cheat in one media is not a cheat in another.  What is acceptable or even affecting in one media might just plain never work in another.  Adaptation is a tricky thing.  This one’s already defeated several interesting and talented filmmakers, and I think there’s a reason for that.

I’m in the middle of reading the new book by Vern, the reviewer whose work I published so frequently over at Ain’t It Cool, and in his “Brokeback Mountain” review, he writes the following:

“Ang Lee knows his s**t when it comes to gay shepherds in 1963 Wyoming, or giant green radioactive mutants contemplating lichen in the desert, or some guys fighting over the green sword of destiny, or whatever the fuck he wants to make a movie about.  Ang Lee is a guy, you could just toss movie ideas at him and he would hit them out of the park with his eyes closed.  Mafia epic.  Opera based on the life of Malcolm Jamal-Warner.  Pee-wee football tragedy.  Hamlet acted out by raccoons.  If you can describe it, this motherf**ker can make a good movie out of it.  Don’t even try it.  You can’t beat him.  It’s like fighting gravity.”  

I would say it is possible Lee has finally met his match.

We’ll see in 2011 if Elizabeth Gabler has her way.  You can read the full original story here.

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