As soon as I finished reading the Life of Pi by Yann Martel, I immediately wanted to read it again. I remember putting it down and just shaking my head in amazement that it concluded on such a wonderfully thought provoking metaphor. As I tried to comprehend what I just read, I went online and searched IMDB, surely it would be getting turned into a movie any day now. I could easily visualize it so clearly and I just knew it would be great on the big screen.
Years later my dreams came true. News emerged that Ang Lee would be turning this best-selling novel into a film. I’m sure I actually fist-pumped at the thought of it, confident that all my positive thoughts toward it becoming a movie were the reason it was getting produced. When the trailers premiered earlier this year I shared them enthusiastically on this very site, just so incredibly psyched to see this story come to life — and come to life in 3D.
Then I saw it in theaters and then I left slightly disappointed. Sure, the film ended up being visually stunning and sure Ang Lee used 3D beautifully, but it just missed the boat (so many puns intended) when it came to capturing the message of the story. The book made me feel so many emotions, it made me think and it made me actually question what happened. The movie made me say, “oh.”
Because in the book there are words and descriptions and inner thoughts. In the movie there’s a guy in a boat with a tiger. Think Castaway if you spent the entire film worrying that Wilson would kill Tom Hanks. It’s scary and less fun than I thought it would be.
Simply put, it just didn’t work in the same way. It’s by no means a bad film. But it’s simply nowhere as great as the book. A fact that reminded me that some books just shouldn’t be made into movies.
Yes, yes I know, the books are always better than the movies. To quote Mrs Potts, “that’s a tale as old as time.” But still, some great books do make good movies. They take the story and translate it to the screen in a way that retains the meaning — but adapts it so it makes sense in a movie.
Life of Pi needed to be adapted differently for the big screen. While the twist ending the book worked brilliantly, it simply doesn’t work in the same way in the movie. Rather than make us think, it simply feels like a cheap movie trick. A twist for the sake of a twist. However I’m not suggesting they should’ve changed the ending –that’s what made the book the success that it was — but I am suggesting that they should’ve started hinting at the ending as Pi and the tiger floated around in the ocean. Something to make the end feel more climatic, and less tacked on.
That would’ve helped turn a powerful book into a powerful movie. That would’ve had me leaving the theater and cheering on this adaptation of one of my favorite books.
But instead it just served as a lesson that not every book needs to be turned into a movie. Sometimes it’s okay to put a good book down and leave it there.