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I'm not sure if PI ($25) qualifies as a science fiction movie, but many have attributed this engrossing film to that particular genre. PI could just as easily qualify as a drama about the fine line between genius and madness, or perhaps PI could be viewed as a surreal art house movie. However, anyway you look at it, PI is something unique and special.

What is pi? Basically, it is a mathematical representation of a circle's diameter divided by its circumference. Personally, I have never been a mathematics scholar, although I became intrigued with the concept of a deeper meaning buried within the endless sting of numbers that constitutes pi after reading Carl Sagan's superb novel CONTACT. While this movie has nothing to do with Sagan's novel, the filmmakers tread on similar ground when it comes to finding some sort of meaning locked within the endless number stream of pi. The plot of PI concerns a genius named Maximilian Cohen (Sean Gullette) who is seeking a mathematical pattern within the numeric chaos of the stock market. Just as Max makes a breakthrough, in which he is able to accurately predict the next day's activity for a handful of stocks, his custom made computer burns out. However, before the circuitry fries itself, the computer spits out a seemingly random string of 216 numbers. Up against a brick wall, Max consults with his old professor Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis) to get fresh perspective on his project. During the course of a conversation with Sol, who made the study of pi his life's work, Max discovers that Sol repeatedly encountered the same 216 number anomaly while trying to ascertain a deeper meaning within pi.

At this point, Max begins to see pi as the key that will help him achieve his goal. Realizing that he needs more processing power for his custom made computer; Max makes a deal with some shady players from Wall Street for access to a high-powered chip. Things take an unexpected turn for Max, when he meets Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), a member of Kaballah sect, who introduces him to the numerical secrets buried within the ancient religious texts. As Max tries to divine the mysteries of pi, he finds himself not only fighting against those individuals who wish to claim the secrets for themselves, but with the madness the comes from unlocking forbidden knowledge. The cast PI also includes Pamela Hart, Stephen Pearlman and Samia Shoaib.

Artisan Entertainment has given PI a great looking wide screen presentation that does not include the anamorphic component for 16:9 televisions. PI has been given a top-notch black and white Letterboxed transfer that recreates the film's 1.66:1 theatrical framing. The high contrast black and white images are superbly reproduced on DVD. There is evidence of film grain throughout the presentation, but it works within the gritty context of the film's low-budget production design. Blacks are perfectly rendered, as are whites, and all the shades of gray in between. The image itself is sharp and detailed, however there are limitations to the level of detail because of the film's highly stylized cinematography. Solid DVD authoring conceals all evidence of compression artifacts.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack effectively decodes to standard surround. After being spoiled by discrete Dolby Digital tracks, I'm actually surprised when I find myself impressed by a matrixed surround track. However, the way PI makes use of the older surround sound system left me suitably impressed. Sound effects move across the soundstage in surprising ways that pull the viewer into the strange universe of the film's main character. There are also haunting atmospheric effects within the mix that serve to heighten the impact of the film's visuals. Dialogue reproduction is also clean and very accurate.

The interactive menus contain animation, plus music and supply access to the standard scene selection feature as well as the DVD's supplemental materials. Artisan Entertainment has done a rather impressive job of adding extras to this particular disc. PI features two very good audio commentaries, the first with director Darren Aronofsky and the second with the film's star Sean Gullette. A number of lost scenes have been included, and they are viewable with or without the director's commentary. One will also find on the DVD, a behind-the-scenes montage, as well as theatrical trailers, a music video, a graphic novel and notes on mathematical concept of pi.

PI is anything but standard Hollywood fare; this intense and absorbing film truly deserves to be seen. Artisan's terrific DVD edition of PI is absolutely the best way to view this intriguing film at home. Recommended




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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