Finally opening wide today after a 10-year journey to the screen, director Ang Lee‘s epic and groundbreaking movie about the trecherous ocean voyage of two survivors of a shipwreck – a young man and an imposing Bengal Tiger – represents an enormous gamble for distributor 20th Century Fox. Even Lee who has won Oscars for equally groundbreaking fare such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain initally did not think this reported $120 million film based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel was viable. “I read it 10 years ago. I thought nobody in their right mind would put up more than $15 million for this. It’s too risky, too philosophical a book although it has great adventure in the middle part, the ocean part, but it’s a thinking book. So I didn’t think it was artistically filmable or technically so,” he told me when he came to town last week for a series of well-attended promotional screenings for the WGA, PGA, SAG, DGA and the Academy which drew a strong crowd Sunday night.
Lee wasn’t the only one who thought Life of Pi was unfilmable. Fox had been developing the picture with other filmmakers since aquiring the property in 2002 but until Lee got involved five years ago it was stalled. Even then it almost didn’t come together but the director prevailed in explaining his vision and the need to shoot it in 3D, his first time using that process. “I thought of 3D, that maybe with another dimension I could take a leap of faith. That was way before I knew what 3D was. It was a naive thought.