ang lee

Just a month ago, it looked like Ang Lee might finally get his adaptation of the novel The Life of Pi off the ground at Fox. A film based on the book, which depicts a boy stranded on a boat with a tiger, hyena, zebra and orangutan for 227 days after a shipwreck, has long been in development hell. At the time, Fox was expected to make a decision about greenlighting the film by…well, now. And at this point, the light is not green.

What’s the issue? The $70m needed to make the film, which appears to be more than the studio is willing to pay, according to the LA Times. That budget seems relatively modest for a film that will feature an array of CGI animals and take place partially on water. But that’s exactly the problem — water shoots are notorious for costing far more than initially allocated. Things could move forward if some ‘reconfiguring’ is done on the budget. But that will likely require slashing story elements.

There also seem to be lingering doubts about the marketability of the movie. Those have to be based in the fact that the primary human character is a small Indian boy, because the other elements of the story — talking animals, primary among which is a tiger, the elements of a survival story, and the imagination of Pi, through which some of the tale takes flight — all seem supremely marketable. Even a cursory perusal of the basic story leads to a span of mental images which would instantly sell the movie, if they could be transferred to the screen. (Lee has been talking about making the film in 3D, which already seems like a massive concession to the marketplace.)

So will Ang Lee’s version of the film be another failed attempt to put the book on screens? Jean-Pierre Jeunet, M. Night Shyamalan and Alfonso Cuaron all stalled out while trying to make it. They didn’t get as far as Lee has, but the budget stumbling block is a big one.

Here’s the book recap again:

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.”

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