One Big Scene: Why Ang Lee's 'Life of Pi' Shipwreck Needs to be Seen on the Big Screen

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi adapts a best-selling novel by the author Yann Martel, about an introspective Indian retelling his amazing story to a curious Candian journalist. It features a powerful lead performance by a relatively isolated Suraj Sharma, brilliant work by a digital effects team conjuring a vicious tiger, and one of the most jaw-dropping shipwreck scenes. It absolutely needs to be seen on the big screen. 
That’s why we’re kicking off a new weekly column on Fandango called One Big Scene – a feature that will dig deeper into a long sequence in a theatrical movie that needs to be seen on the big screen. These are sequences that, alone, are worth the price of admission. Often, they’ll be presented in IMAX or 3D … situations that cannot be replicated at home. Mostly, they are just spectacular visual feasts that we know audiences will adore when they seen them on the silver screen. 
For Life of Pi, we’re choosing the breathless shipwreck scene. Let’s break it down:
The scene: At the moment of the shipwreck, teenaged Pi Patel is moving from India to Canada with his family. The clan recently sold its zoo in their homeland, and is attempting to transport the animals across the Atlantic Ocean on a massive cargo ship. In the middle of the night, Pi walks onto the deck of the ship to experience the driving rains of a vicious storm. But the evening takes a life-altering turn when the ocean’s waves overwhelm the ship, spilling the animal cargo into the sea. 
What the critics said: 
“Everything looks beautiful in Life of Pi. The dangerous animals look beautiful. The terrible storms look beautiful. The crashing ocean waves, the twinkling stars, the wondrous carnivorous island on which the hero at one point lands — pure gorgeousness, shimmering with all the wow that superlative 3-D technology has to offer.” 
-- Lisa Schwarzbaum,
“What astonishes me is how much I love the use of 3-D in Life of Pi. I've never seen the medium better employed, not even in Avatar, and although I continue to have doubts about it in general, Lee never uses it for surprises or sensations, but only to deepen the film's sense of places and events. Let me try to describe one point of view. The camera is placed in the sea, looking up at the lifeboat and beyond it. The surface of the sea is like the enchanted membrane upon which it floats. There is nothing in particular to define it; it is just … there. This is not a shot of a boat floating in the ocean. It is a shot of ocean, boat and sky as one glorious place.”
-- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun Times
“Has anyone before Ang Lee rethought the visual essence of water? What he and his cinematographer, Claudio Miranda, have done in several sequences is to treat water like a mirror, a radiant medium that floats the lifeboat and its passengers on a glassy surface, or to render it invisible, a magical absence that suspends living creatures in a state of ecstatic grace.” 
-- Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal
The Scene:
The shipwreck scene, in particular, is a wondrous example of the camera being placed where a camera should never be. From the moment Sharma steps from the safety of his cargo room onto the watery deck of the sloshing ship, the audience all but holds its collective breath waiting to see how – if – he will survive. It’s an impossible scene that incorporates driving rain, rolling waves, ferocious animals and a massive ship the size of the Titanic that, coincidentally, is sinking beneath the surface. And when Lee’s camera takes us underwater to show us the sinking ship from that angle, this becomes a scene that you must see in theaters, in 3D, and on the big screen.

One Big Scene is a weekly column dedicated to spectacular visual sequences we’re recommending you see in the theater. If you have ones you’d like us to write about, let us know in the comments section below. 
Follow along on Twitter @Sean_OConnell and @Fandango. 
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