By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Once considered impossible to make, the big screen 3D adaptation of the bestselling novel "Life of Pi" will open the 50th New York Film Festival on Friday, marking another advance in digital filmmaking.
The movie's director, "Brokeback Mountain" filmmaker Ang Lee, was due to hit the red carpet at the big-budget movie's world premiere on Friday. Audiences will get their first glimpse of the spiritual story of a boy stranded on a boat with a Bengal tiger, as it kicks off the screenings of more than 160 films over 17 days.
One of the world's most respected movie showcases, the festival typically emphasizes the art of cinema with a selection of the best films from the year's European festivals over Hollywood style premieres. But the event is still seen as an important step in gathering critical buzz as Hollywood's awards season gets going.
But more splashy world premieres than usual are on this year's schedule, including "Sopranos" maker David Chase's film feature debut, "Not Fade Away"; Robert Zemeckis' first action film "Flight" starring Denzel Washington, which will close the festival; as well as the much-anticipated fantasy adventure "Life of Pi".
"Life of Pi" uses computer generated imagery to bring a cinematic feel to the tale of a Hindu boy who survives a shipwreck and gets stranded on a lifeboat for 227 days with a spotted hyena, an injured zebra, an orangutan and a Bengal tiger called Richard Parker.
It is director Ang Lee's riskiest film to date, even after 2005's "Brokeback Mountain" for which he won the best director Oscar. That film generated some controversy upon its release for breaking barriers about gay portrayals on screen.
Lee told reporters in New York on Friday that he read "Life of Pi" when the novel was released in 2001, and found it "fascinating and mind-boggling." However, "I remember thinking to myself, nobody in their right mind" would transfer it to film due to the technical difficulties of filming a story partly set at sea with a host of zoo animals, he added.
But spurred on by its spiritual message, Lee agreed to make the movie four years ago, and saw 3D as the only way to realize it even before "Avatar" in 2009 broke through as a box office bonanza for 3D movies.
"Life of Pi" stars unknown Indian actor Suraj Sharma who was plucked from more than 3,000 hopefuls. The book's author, Canadian writer Yann Martel, said he never imagined the film adaptation. "It was cinematic in my mind but I never thought I would actually see it on the screen, that it would be too complicated to do," he said.
Other films looking to gain favor with critics and audiences coming off showings at earlier festivals include Michael Haneke's "Amour", Romanian director Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills", Noah Baumbach's black-and-white ode to New York, "Frances Ha" starring Greta Gerwig, and Chile director Pablo Larrain's "No".
Stars such as Bill Murray, who plays Franklin D. Roosevelt in "Hyde Park on Hudson", are expected to show up, along with Nicole Kidman, the subject of a special gala tribute at the festival.
(Editing by Richard Chang)