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Interview: Director Ang Lee of 'Life of Pi'

'I thought, "Maybe if I have another dimension, I could make the novel into a film ..."'

By James Rocchi Nov 29, 2012 12:38PM

Ang Lee knows how to make films -- from "Sense and Sensibility" to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," from "Hulk" to "Brokeback Mountain." What he doesn't seem to know how to do is to make things easy on himself. His latest film proves that -- it's a gorgeous, bold 3D adaptation on Yann Martel's beloved novel. We spoke with Lee in New York about adaptation, 3D, technical advances in film appearing in horror, porn and action first and the absence of God ....

 

MSN Movies: This novel's been translated into 48 different languages. Mr. Martel said at one point that watching this film was like seeing it get translated into a 49th. What I'm curious about is, what was your challenge in taking it from the language of prose and a novelistic, literary writing style into the language of the screen which is about vision, action, and in many cases silence?

 

Ang Lee: To put it clearly ... you have to forget about language.

 

Right.

 

If you follow language, certainly, you'll be screwed.

 

Right.

 

(Laughs) If you just translate language into cinema, that's not going to happen. I know that pretty well. So first of all, I read the book when it first came out. Just the impression, what hit me the most, I had a gut feeling: How do I put this on the screen? How do I bring that out cinematically? That's my first worry. Then I go back and check what's in the book, the details ... but that first stage, the first impression, the gut feeling. To me the most precious thing about it is that it relates to me as a filmmaker, the power of storytelling, the power of imagination, the power of God, not in a religious way, but God as an abstract experience (where) you look up, or look inside. So how do you do that visually? I thought if I took a leap of faith, I thought maybe another dimension, maybe 3D. I went through all that stage, the crazy stage, before I got to the details to break it down.

 

BING: 'Life of Pi' l Ang Lee

 

What was it like to make a film in 3D, which works beautifully here in this luminous, painterly way where it's not about diving into your face off screen.  That decision, how conscious was that? Had you been looking to work in 3D out of curiosity as the script came along? Or was it more a matter that for this film, 3D is the most logical artistic choice?

 

For this film, 'cause otherwise I don't know how to make this movie. This is four years ago before I even know about what the movie is -- and as I told you, (I thought) maybe if I have another dimension, it's possible. It was a thought, but it was scary stuff And then I have to present it to the studio like this is the better way to do it even though I didn’t know what to talk to them about. (Laughs) Yeah, it opens new chances. Thank God this media is still new and fresh and not quite known by film makers or audiences, still in the process of being established.

 

Do you feel that when directors like you and Mr. Scorsese work in 3D, it kind of opens the possibilities up a little bit more than an endless series of horror sequels?

 

Usually when new technology happens, it's always horror films first ... if not porn. (Laughs) Then action films. That's the nature of the technology, and then because 3D films are inconvenient they must be expensive, so action movies get to do it first, because people don't take them seriously. Even when movies happened, they weren't taken seriously. "Serious actors go on stage."

 

Right.

 

You skip it. But then people started taking it as an artistic media, and then as something else. I think that's what's beginning to happen with 3D. It's still not quite ... I'm still a novice student.


For more on 'Life of Pi,' watch our video interview with star Suraj Sharma and Ang Lee:

 'Life of Pi' is in theaters. For more information about movies, check the MSN Movies Facebook page and the MSN Movies Twitter feed.
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