Ang Lee's Life of Pi is expected to make a strong debut at the box office this weekend, with cinemagoers anxious to see what the Taiwanese filmmaker has done with a story once deemed "unfilmable". The film is based on Yann Martel's 2001 novel that has sold more than seven million copies worldwide and spent years on the bestseller list. It follows the story of a young Indian boy who is trusted with moving his family's zoo to Canada, though when the ship sinks, he finds himself on a lifeboat with a fully grown Bengal tiger. Yikes.
Though it seems like a pretty straight narrative, Martel's novel is awash with religious connotations, existentialism and a twist ending. Getting the story to the big screen has been a long and arduous process, with M Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Curaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all signing on as directors before bailing on the project. Each prospective director ran into their own difficulties and found problems getting Life of Pi into a coherent Hollywood movie. One challenge was casting: which actor could take up the role of young Pi without taking away from the unique story? Ang Lee decided to eschew the regular Hollywood casting process and went with the completely unknown Suraj Sharma. According to E! Online, Tobey Maguire shot several scenes as the writer who interviews the adult Pi Patel, though Lee decided against having the former Spiderman star in the movie.
Another challenge that faced Lee was the Bengal tiger, which features prominently in the movie. Other passengers on the ship include a zebra, hyena and an orang-utan and the filmmaker decided to make CGI creations. Sharma told the New York Daily News, "The first thing I learned was how to act opposite no one. I didn't think I could do it, but Ang gets what he wants. So it was new for me - but it was doable".
Clearly another difficulty in getting Yann Martel's story to the screen was budget. A lot of water in a movie can lead to financial disaster - just ask Kevin Costner. Though Life of Pi boasted a $100 million budget, Lee was still forced to film most of the aquatic scenes in a self-made studio tank.
So there you have it. Ang Lee was clearly the man to get Life of Pi into theaters and by the look of the reviews, he's done a rather good job of it.