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CinemaCon 2012: Monty Cristo Reels at the 3D Wonder of LIFE OF PI's Shipwreck Sequence


"Monty Cristo" here...


Before anyone cries about spoilers in the article title, the shipwreck here is like saying Tom Hanks gets stranded in CAST AWAY. This is stuff that'll be in the trailer.


CinemaCon ate me alive, and I didn't expect it to. Even when I thought I had breaks, those spaces got filled with chatting and hobnobbing. I'll be throwing a few little stories like this out there for individual items that I think bear individual Talkbacking, and then tie everything else into a big wrapup piece.


Fox closed out their presentation last week with an extended look at their late December release LIFE OF PI, which they are obviously positioning as their big awards season contender. Aside form how they're marketing it, what I saw made this one rocket to the top of my must-see list.


Talkbackers who've read the book, stay away from un-marked spoilers, or the Ban Hammer comes out. You've been warned.




The presentation opened at night, during what would be a fateful storm at sea. Pi and his family are making the trans-atlantic journey to move themselves and some of the inhabitants of a zoo that they owned in India. I saw the entire shipwreck sequence that followed in crisp, brightly-projected 3D. The content itself was dark, drenched, and disorienting.


The composition of the frame played with the fact this was a clear, crisp 3D film, throwing sheets of rain and surging waves into the frame between the viewer and other characters, including Pi. When we are plunged underwater, the subtlety of the 3D field chosen by director Ang Lee is absolutely amazing. Rather than just go with foreground, middle, and background, there are multiple planes of depth at play, achieving the very rare effect of something I'd call "3Deep Focus".


I've seen loads of films with shipwreck or storm-at-sea sequences, from A NIGHT TO REMEMBER to THE PERFECT STORM toTITANIC and loads of others, but this may be the first time that the visual dynamism of the action hooked onto my heartstrings and elevated me empathetically. I cried at a footage presentation, which I never expected to happen. They just happened to show us one of the (if not the) most devastating sequences of the film. Here's what I tweeted right after the presentation:


LIFE OF PI footage absolutely wrecked me. I cried. Choking up thinking about it. This doesn't happen to me. The master at work. 


The sequence ends with Pi desperately clambering back into the boat, now clear of the doomed ship. Inside the boat are an injured Zebra and his nemesis, a Bengal Tiger, who will be his long-term companion on his journey.


Lee came out and insisted that it would look yet better and more perfect in December, and I'll be damned if I could tell you how that piece I saw would be better served. He then cued another, much shorter sequence from later in the story, which fans of the book would recognize. Flying fish soar over the boat, flop against Pi and the Tiger, and many land in the boat. A much larger fish jumps in, and the duo (Pi and Tiger) duel over him, in their own way. The fish stop flying, and the scene ended. We got a good feel for the relationship between Pi and the Tiger (aka Richard Parker). Richard has kinetic weight, is expressive, and looks like he lives in the same world as Pi. To say that the look of the film works is a massive understatement.


While flying, the fish all inhabited their own space, instead of two or three or four discrete planes of depth. Again, I rang through that this film will have so much going on visually that while it is not frustratingly over-busy, there is so much to see and focus on that one would be driven to see it more than once to soak in the pure visual splendor of it all.


The story itself is captivating (based on my experience with the book), with a grand sense of adventure mixed with a brilliant spiritual allegory. The remarkably diverse filmography of Ang Lee may be positioned to receive a new crown jewel here if the rest of the film holds up the promise seen last week in Vegas. Since Lee has been working on this for three years, I feel safe betting on that being the case.



21 December, folks. Get ready.



Moisés Chiullan
"Monty Cristo"

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