The Life of Pi, which depicts a boy, Pi, stranded on a boat with a tiger, hyena, zebra and orangutan for 227 days after a shipwreck, was optioned years ago but has long been stranded in development hell. The simple fact of those characters on screen together is only part of why the movie has taken so long to develop — there are also story aspects that deal with religion, culture and truth.
Ang Lee has been attached to the film for some time, after earlier director attachments M Night Shyamalan, Alfonso Cuaron and Jean-Pierre Jeunet all fell away. Now it looks like Lee’s version of the film might actually happen.
Anne Thompson reports that Lee and Elizabeth Gabler are lining up $70m for “a 3-D magical fantasy adventure crammed with visual effects.” There’s certainly a lot to put on screen — Pi’s childhood in India under his zookeeper father, the shipwreck, the animals. “You can’t put a live tiger in a boat with a child,” Gabler says, which eliminates half of my reason for wanting this to be filmed right off. (Kidding, sadly. Obviously there wasn’t any chance a real tiger would actually be used.)
There’s also the issue of cracking the story — the novel has several parts, two of which present parallel, conflicting tales. Finding Neverland‘s David Magee has turned in a script, but we don’t know much about how he has resolved the many tricky issues in the story.
No casting has yet begun, as the film has not yet been greenlit by Fox, but Thompson says that go-ahead should be decided upon within the next month, which would help pave the way for a late summer shoot.
Here’s a quick synopsis of the book:
The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting “religions the way a dog attracts fleas.” Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (“His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth”). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don’t burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat’s sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: “It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I’ve made none the champion.”