If you were impressed by the martial arts special effects in his “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — never mind his version of “Hulk” — just wait until you see director Ang Lee’s latest film.
Based on a best-selling novel by Yann Martel, the 3-D “Life of Pi” tells the visually stunning story of a young Indian boy (played by newcomer Suraj Sharma) who is shipwrecked and set adrift in a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
The Taiwanese director, 58, a two-time Oscar winner (for “Crouching Tiger” and “Brokeback Mountain”), spoke about his new film during a recent telephone interview.
Q: What attracts you to a project generally, and what was it about “Life of Pi” in particular?
A: Generally, I like going places where I’ve never been before, learning about different genres, places, themes, exploring and learning as much as I can about the world. I like an adventure, and “Life of Pi” seemed to include all of those elements and ingredients that I like.
Q: Were you a fan of the book?
A: Yes. A friend recommended it to me right after it came out, and my kids, my wife, we all read it.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in adapting it for the screen?
A: Finding a kind of structure from the book that you need when you’re writing a movie script. The book was very thought-provoking and parts of it were mind-boggling to me in the way it examined illusion and how it often pulled the rug out from under you. The book expects the reader to think about issues of faith, things that don’t require any proof, so the challenge was keeping the audience within the illusion, even though we’re taking them in and out of the main story.
Q: It’s probably one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen. Talk about some of those challenges, in terms of the special effects and shooting it in 3-D.
A: It’s funny, because my first thought was that this would make a nice art-house movie, but it quickly turned into a very expensive undertaking. Technically, the ocean scenes were probably the hardest to pull off, because water and the movement of water is tough to simulate with CGI. I think we definitely raised the bar in terms of those scenes.
Q: How did accomplishing these effects compare with those in your “Hulk” movie?
A: In some ways, “Hulk” was harder. We could film actual tigers and other animals in motion to give the special-effects team something to go by when they were designing the animation, but there was no physical reference point to really know how a 2,000 pound person might move believably.
Q: Suraj Sharma’s performance as Pi is pretty remarkable. How did you come to cast him?
A: There were no big movie stars available, so I knew I wanted someone new and fresh and authentic. He wasn’t a professional actor when I met him. We did three rounds of auditions and saw almost 3,000 kids initially before narrowing it down to 12 and finally offering him the role.
Q: What should audiences come away from the film thinking about?
A: About faith and hope, the value of storytelling, about nature and the nature of illusion. Hopefully, the film will do what the book did, causing people to discuss those issues.
Q: You’ve made such an eclectic array of films — from “Sense and Sensibility” to “The Ice Storm,” from “Ride With the Devil” to “Taking Woodstock.” Is there any kind of common bond between them?
A: I guess they’re all about the human condition and doing the right thing, finding a balance between what you want or need to do and what society expects of you. That may be less so in “Life of Pi,” which is more about what is real and what is not. It’s nothing I do consciously, but those are the essential themes in a lot of my films.
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