LIFE OF PI / B +
On the basis of extraordinarily moving middle 2/3 and superbly well designed animal characters, Ang Lee's film version of what I once thought an unfilmmable novel ultimately works. There are issues with the bookend narration device which gets a tad too patronizingly on the nose (featuring the device I call the "Then What Happened?" character), but the exploration of spirituality didn't bother me as much--the titular protagonist wasn't sure himself what religion he subscribed to, and as much as hes seemed to need God, or gods, to survive his ordeal it is the tiger Richard Parker (one of cinema's finest felines, with incredibly vivid design) who helps him survive, keeps him alert and gives him a reason to live. While the finale shares some of the same talky cop-out as the book, it works best if you look at this less about man's relationship with God and more as a story about storytelling. Pi''s odyssey is one of transformation that lives on--after he loses his seafaring diary--via his memory of it, however skewed that might be.
And in that 2nd act starting with the startling, chilling shipwreck and then to the sea (in which a poor zebra gets the worst of it), Lee and his team of designers create a remakably believable and often ethereal world full of flying fish, moonlit jellyfish, dolphins and an island whose secret I won't spoil. Whether all these things truly happened to Pi is up to the viewer, but, it seems to say, cynics will suffer the greatest loss. Imperfect, but indelibly haunting.
PS: Regarding 3-D, while it probably still looks visually striking in 2-D, this is the rare case of 3-D enhancing the visuals a bit, especially during several key sequences at sea (those flying fish are coming at ya!)