How Ang Lee Took a Tiger by the Tale to Create 'Life of Pi'
How Ang Lee Took a Tiger by the Tail to Create 'Life of Pi'
It would have been foolish to predict what "Life of Pi" -- has become: a box-office phenomenon that has swept one country after another, a game changer in its use of 3D and computer graphics and a critical darling with 11 Oscar nominations including best picture, director, screenplay, cinematography and two for composer Mychael Danna.
"It still comes as a surprise," director Ang Lee told TheWrap. "But a wonderful surprise. For a long time I felt that it's a privilege to even make this movie. So we're very happy."
Everything about "Life of Pi," based on the bestselling novel by Yann Martel, represented an uncommon risk. A pensive drama without a single movie star or, for that matter, a face vaguely familiar to American audiences, the project cost $130 million, highly unusual in today's Hollywood. (Even "Les Misérables" cost just $60 million.)
Further, the movie takes place almost entirely on the ocean, in 3D and with a CG tiger, factors that required technological machinations not guaranteed to work. Beyond that, given its ponderous price tag, the movie had to appeal to a very broad audience to pay off.
And it has. An uplifting story about the survival of the human spirit and the power of imagination, "Life of Pi" has been embraced across cultures and nations around the globe, with the movie setting new benchmarks in China, sweeping Latin America and taking in $450 million worldwide while still in release.
"The pattern of how this movie plays is kind of strange. I've never experienced it before," Lee said of "Pi's" overwhelming international appeal. "It was made to be a big movie, with lots of commercials everywhere. But it's a philosophical movie -- an Indian boy, a digital tiger, an ambiguous ending. I didn't know if it would work or not."
The novel tells the story of a shipwrecked Indian boy, Pi, adrift on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, and adds a twist at the end to make you question everything you've read. "Pi's" journey to the screen took the better part of a decade and began conventionally enough. Producer Gil Netter sent Fox 2000 veteran producer Elizabeth Gabler the book shortly after it was published, and they optioned it for Fox in 2002.
She commissioned a script from Dean Georgaris for director M. Night Shyamalan, but Georgaris never completed it. Director Alfonso Cuaron ("Children of Men") signed on and then left. Jean-Pierre Jeunet ("Delicatessen") picked up the project, then he dropped out, too.