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‘Life of Pi’ Reviews: Does It Sink or Swim?

'Life of Pi' Reviews: Does It Sink or Swim?

Most praise Ang Lee's 3D "Life of Pi" as a visual spectacle, though a few cranky critics weren't overly impressed by the narrative

Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" hit  theaters on Wednesday and, unlike the ocean freighter shipping its protagonist across the globe, it doesn't sink.

In fact, according to TheWrap's Leah Rozen, it "soars." 

With an admirable 85 percent "fresh" rating on critics aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Rozen's not alone. Following the adventures of Pi Patel, a 17-year-old Indian boy shipwrecked in the Pacific with only a Bengal tiger for company, the 3D adaptation of Yann Martel's bestselling survival story is being hailed as visually stunning. 

"Lee has made a film that’s marvelously simple and yet simultaneously complex," Rozen writes. "On one level, this is a magical tale of survival, with boy and tiger facing off, at least initially, against each other as well as the elements. On a deeper level, it’s a thematically elegant meditation on the role that faith plays in our lives and actions."

Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert couldn't agree more. He praises Lee's latest as "a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery." 

Impressed by both "boundary-breaking visuals" and the "electrifying tale," the Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey considers the Oscar bait "a masterpiece" that's worth the 3D ticket premium. "The filmmaker has raised the bar," Sharkey writes. "Not since James Cameron's breathtaking blue 'Avatar' in 2009 has 3D had such impact."

Still, some thought the screenplay by David Magee ("Finding Neverland") isn't as spiritually enlightening as the computer-generated creatures on screen are beautiful. Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum says she found her "spiritual self unroused."

"Watching the director's first 3D project, I found myself drifting off, thinking, 'How did Ang Lee make that CG tiger look so excellently tiger-y? How did he make the stars so twinkly?' Schwarzbaum writes. "And then I thought, 'Gee, the director has worked so hard on this, and so meticulously. What craftsmanship!' But that's not the same thing as being swept away."

A.O. Scott, a critic for the New York Times, agrees. "The problem, as I have suggested, is that the narrative frame that surrounds these lovely pictures complicates and undermines them," Scott writes. "The novelist and the older Pi are eager to impose interpretations on the tale of the boy and the beast, but also committed to keeping those interpretations as vague and general as possible. And also, more disturbingly, to repress the darker implications of the story, as if the presence of cruelty and senseless death might be too much for anyone to handle." 

"The movie invites you to believe in all kinds of marvelous things, but it also may cause you to doubt what you see with your own eyes — or even to wonder if, in the end, you have seen anything at all," he concludes.