Now that the holiday box office dust has begun to clear, a few potential Oscar winners have come out of the gate swinging. Les Miserables, Django Unchained, The Silver Linings Playbook, The Hobbit, Lincoln, and Skyfall have scored with both critics and audiences which are two necessary ingredients for Oscar gold.
While Les Miz, The Hobbit, and Django ruled the post-Christmas box office weekend with grosses in the $30 million plus neighborhood, Skyfall did them all one better – or one billion better rather as it became the first James Bond movie ever to join the $1 Billion Club.
So as this veritable snowstorm of dollars continues to fall, I have but one question: whatever happened to Life of Pi?
Having finally seen this lovely, terrific, amazing, movie I’ve come to realize that it has not only fallen out of the Top Ten Weekend Box Office rankings, it has also seemingly disappeared from the awards season’s radar altogether.
Although Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s best selling novel, which tells the story of a young man named Pi who gets trapped at sea in a boat with a very real Bengal tiger, has amassed $84 million domestically to date, as well as $300 million plus worldwide (it’s production budget is listed as $120 million) and has also also scored a 90% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com, it no longer seems to be on any Oscar prognosticator’s short list.
This magical movie was released barely over a month ago (Nov. 21st) and instantly received rapturous reviews from many critics – one of whom, Roger Ebert, just published his annual Best Of list and Pi was ranked #2!
So why the cold shoulder now? One can easily assume it’s mainly due to the (over) crowded marketplace where each new weekend has brought new box office contenders such as the ones listed above. Even the $200 million plus grosser Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 has been pushed further down the Top 20 (#15) though one can argue that film has a very, very, narrow demographic.
Another stumbling block for Pi could be a decreased sense of urgency by the moviegoing public to see it especially when so many other major releases are virtually trampling over it. The movie received an A- from polling experts Cinemascore which normally translates into positive word of mouth, but sadly it seems that the conversation has turned to Hugh Jackman singing and Jamie Foxx shooting and not the storybook-like spell that Pi casts on its viewers.
Ultimately what might have doomed Pi to premature box office death could be that, unlike Breaking Dawn, its hard to pin down who the movie is really for. At first blush one would assume that it is a family film, but the fairly high death count of zoo animals and intensity of the movie’s feline co-star are both testament to the contrary.
Pi is in fact rated PG and not G. Parents planning to bring younger moviegoers should be aware of the film’s somewhat disturbing elements. There is also a “twist” element to the story (no spoilers here) that very well will go over the heads of those pre-teen and younger.
To be fair, the same sort of post-mortem could be aimed at a film like Flight which came out of the gate with a (sonic) boom and now is barely hanging in the Top 20 without having hit the golden $100 million mark.
If Pi receives a nomination for Best Picture, it very well could benefit from the “Oscar bump” that many nominated films enjoy. Though the movie has been nominated for a Golden Globe in the Drama category and has been named the 2012’s Movie of The Year by the American Film Institute, it hasn’t appeared on very many year-end critic’s groups lists which are often in line with what actually ends up on Academy Awards ballots.
Which is a shame because Life of Pi is a movie that can only be fully appreciated and experienced on a big screen in 3-D. Here’s hoping this gem of film doesn’t get sucked into the undertow come January 10th when the Oscar nominations are announced.
Ward Porrill is also the George Lucas Examiner.