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Yann Martel says he'd consider screenwriting after seeing 'Life of Pi' on screen

TORONTO - Canadian author Yann Martel says he'd consider trying his hand at screenwriting now that he's seen his celebrated novel "Life of Pi" turned into a dazzling 3D spectacle for the big screen.

The Booker Prize-winning writer says he's impressed with director Ang Lee's meticulous adaptation of his 2001 tale, about an Indian boy lost at sea with a ravenous tiger.

"I like creative challenges, it might be fun to try something like that," Martel admits in a recent interview from his home in Saskatoon.

"If a film project were available and the timing was right, I might be interested."

The screenplay for "Life of Pi" was penned by David Magee, the Oscar-nominated writer who adapted "Finding Neverland" from Allan Knee's play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan."

Martel says he had little involvement in Lee and Magee's efforts to wrestle his meditative book "Life of Pi" into a visual kaleidoscope suitable for the cinema. But he did offer a few comments when the script was in its early stages.

The 49-year-old notes that Lee asked to meet with him in New York before he agreed to direct.

"I guess for some reason he wanted to meet me and talk to me about the book and then I read the screenplay in two early renditions and gave feedback about the language, about small stuff," he says, adding he made a point of limiting his suggestions to the Oscar-winning filmmaker.

"It wasn't for me to say, 'You've got it all wrong.' I mean, the guy's a director. The guy makes movies and it'd be like me going to tell a painter, 'You should use these colours.'"

Martel says the first version of the screenplay he read didn't include the Japanese investigators that appear in his book, although they were later added and ultimately made it into the film.

Martel says he's a big fan of Lee's work and considers "Brokeback Mountain" a "masterpiece" but admits to having small quibbles about the way "Life of Pi" unfolds on the big screen.

Nevertheless, he says he doesn't want to be a "fault-picker."

"There's certainly some scenes I perhaps would have done differently but overall I'm happy," he says.

"The movie is beautiful. It's sumptuous, it's visually a stunning movie. I mean, the ocean — there are so many tableaus on the ocean with the tiger that are like, 'Wow.' And it's not just that it's a technical feat, which it is, it's also just poetry. There's some very lovely tableaus and the island is very successful. The island is particularly well done."

Although it took roughly a decade to get made, Martel says he never had any doubts the unusual story would overcome its many hurdles to become a movie. He credits Fox 2000 Pictures with taking a big creative risk in embracing the book.

"People are very cynical about Hollywood and here's an example of them taking a difficult movie, not only in terms of difficult to film but thematically difficult," says Martel.

"It's a novel with three distinct parts, you know. Part 1 takes place in India and is about zoos and religion, Part 2 is a shipwreck story, Part 3 is this interrogation in a Mexican hospital. So it doesn't have the standard unity of most novels that have a more traditional unity of time, action and place. And that disparateness, the fact that there's three distinct elements and each is essential, makes it that much more complicated to film."

These days, Martel says he's awaiting the birth of his third child in April and is busy working on his next novel, "The High Mountains of Portugal."

That book is actually mentioned briefly at the beginning of "Life of Pi" when the unnamed author who recounts the magical tale mentions he was working on a novel set in Portugal.

"It's an idea I've had since I was a student at university and I just never knew how to tell it," says Martel.

Like "Life of Pi," it unfolds in three parts: It starts in 1904 with a young academic embarking on a road trip from Lisbon to a northeastern village. It's gradually revealed that his journey is linked to a Portuguese colony off the western coast of equatorial Africa that was a supply station for slave ships.

Part 2 is also set in northeast Portugal but jumps in time to 1938. It centres on a pathologist who is working late at night. Part 3 is set several decades later and features a Canadian senator who retires to that same part of Portugal.

And once again, animals are used as central metaphors throughout the book — this time chimpanzees and rhinoceroses, says Martel.

So far, the writing is going extremely well, he adds.

"'Beatrice & Virgil,' my previous novel, was a very difficult novel to write artistically. Not because it was about the holocaust — when you're soused in that you get used to the tragedy of it. It was just artistically hard to work at," he says.

"This one is flowing the way 'Life of Pi' did. 'Life of Pi' was a very easy novel to write. It was a lot of work but it was great fun. It was jubilant fun, it was a work in exultation working on that novel. Same thing with this one. I wrote 50,000 words in two months for Part 1 last year.... I'm very excited about it."


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