I think if everyone would stop referring to the Wes Anderson movies as comedies we would all be better off. "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is not about making the audience laugh. Yes, there are times you will laugh, but there are also times you will cringe, and there are other moments for just about everything else. What kind of movie is it? It really isn't something that can be given a single label. Yes, there are all kinds of jokes, but aren't they in the service of something more than simple laughs? Hearing David Bowie songs in Portuguese with an acoustic guitar is not only funny, it is kind of beautiful.
A simple joke is the name of Zissou's ship. The Belefonte is clearly a play on Cousteau's Calypso as are the crew's red knit caps. However, some of the humor is quite tough. Think of the scene with Jeff Goldblum's Alistair Hennessy playing cards with his pirate captors as Steve Zissou comes in the room. What follows is funny, but grim at the same time. Then there is the weird way the inside of the boat is portrayed in a cutaway set that looks fake and is meant to look fake. Notice that the science room is the smallest room on this research vessel. The Sauna is much bigger and all the rooms given over to film production constitute most of the ship.
This movie has a lot of fun with the artificial in documentaries and films. Even the scenes of creatures of the sea are often CGI creations that don't even try to look real. Heck, even the colors in the Zissou documentaries are supersaturated and look like they were done in different colors of ink rather than the ocean. How real is life when you are more concerned about getting everything shot with the right sound rather than living it? And how legitimate can a documentary be when it is cobbled together from a lot of staged shots and hosted by someone who really doesn't have a clue about the science behind what is being filmed?
All of the lead actors are terrific and Bill Murray leads the way as the weary and fading Steve Zissou. Everyone involved with Zissou has their own downward arc. Even the equipment is old and barely works. Tired helicopters are dangerous things.
Does the movie work? Maybe not. However, I find so much to watch and enjoy in each scene - even just the actions of the non-speaking characters - that I really enjoyed this movie. If you want to see something strangely beautiful, that plays with all kinds of notions of what is real and what is fake and has a lot of fun along the way, this might be something you would enjoy, although it is not for children.
I guess the kind of send up it is, even of Moby Dick, can be captured by then end title that expresses "gratitude to the Jacques Cousteau Society even though they had nothing to do with the making of the film." I like this kind of thing. Maybe you do to.
on May 10, 2005
There's always a certain amount of trepidation when a filmmaker like Wes Anderson, known for making intimate and personal films, starts making movies on a more ambitious scale - bigger budgets and movie stars in an attempt to appeal to larger audience - that he will lose all of the qualities that made his movies so interesting in the first place. Easily his most accomplished film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou merges his stylized dialogue and quirky characters with elaborate sets and action set pieces in an exotic locale.
Anderson's career has been building up to this film. With The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson was able to juggle a large cast of name stars while still maintaining his artistic integrity. With Life Aquatic, he continues to use stars but has upped the ante in production values and scope. However, he has not lost the intimate feeling that all of his movies possess. No matter how ambitious or big the scale, his films have hand-crafted feel to them. One gets the feeling that Anderson cares about every detail an every aspect and it is this personal touch that makes his movies so unique.
On the first DVD there are nine deleted scenes that feature some nice little bits of business between characters. There is nothing too significant for the most part and these were rightly cut out.
There is a theatrical trailer.
Also included is an audio commentary by Wes Anderson and co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach recorded at the restaurant in New York City where they worked on the screenplay. This is an engaging and thoughtful track as the two men touch upon the film's themes in an unpretentious way.
"Starz on the Set" is a 14-minute featurette. It is fairly standard press kit material as Anderson and the cast talk about the movie's plot and their characters with lots of clips from the film.
The second disc features a collection of stills taken during filming.
"The Look Aquatic" is a brief look at how the specific world that Anderson wanted to depict in his film was achieved, including the large set of the cross-section of the Zissou's ship, the Belafonte.
In "Creating a Scene," the cast talk about Anderson's style of filmmaking and how they contribute to it.
There is an excellent interview with long-time Anderson composer, Mark Mothersbaugh. Mothersbaugh talks about his transition from Devo to scoring movies and TV shows (his first gig was Pee-Wee's Playhouse) and gives insight into his creative process.
"Mondo Monda" is an amusing parody of an Italian talk show hosted by Antonio Monda who interviews Anderson and Baumbach in Italian while the two men struggle to understand what he's saying.
"Seu Jorge Performs David Bowie" features footage of the Brazilian recording artist performing ten Bowie songs in their entirety in Portuguese on the set of the film. Some were used in the film.
"Aquatic Life" is a fascinating look at how the undersea creatures were made via stop-motion animation by Henry Selick and his team and then inserted into the movie via computer.
The "Esteban" featurette follows Seymour Cassel around in Italy as he buys some cigars, talks about John Cassavetes and his movies and we see him being directed by Anderson on the underwater set of the movie.
The centerpiece of the supplemental material is "This is an Adventure," 51 minute documentary made by Albert Maysles, Antonio Ferrera and Matthew Prinzing during filming in 2003. We get to see various scenes being shot in this absorbing doc.
"Intern Video Journal" is a behind-the-scenes featurette shot and edited by "Intern #1" Matthew Gray Gubler. He also documents what the cast and crew do between takes - sleeping, playing foosball and basically messing around to alleviate the boredom.
There is also a gallery of paintings of the characters, logos and poster that were featured in the movie.
"Ned" is a brief interview with Owen Wilson as he talks about his character.
Also included is a look at the costumes designed for the movie.
Finally, there is a brief look at Cate Blanchett's character with the actress talking about how she incorporated her real-life pregnancy in the role.
Truth be told...this is NOT a film for everyone - definitely not a mainstream movie. I personally enjoy writer-director Wes Anderson's somewhat eccentric, (bizarre?), style. However, if you watched "Rushmore" and/or "The Royal Tenenbaums" and did not crack a smile, or thought about turning off the DVD player, you should stop reading here. "The Life Aquatic" is not for you. See, how helpful I have been? Now you don't need to read the entire review.
For those of you who have chosen to remain with me, Bill Murray is at his best here - wry, witty, wacky, clever, typically dead pan, totally self-absorbed, and once in a while, comedically tragic...or morosely sentimental! Think of this as a mega-fish story, with Murray as Steve Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau kinda guy. He, just like Cousteau, is an internationally famous oceanographer, who makes underwater documentaries, and wears a Cousteau-like knitted red cap - but Steve's has a pom-pom on top of his. Unlike Cousteau, however, Steve's a pothead. The ship resembles Cousteau's famous state of the art Calypso - but here it is named the Belafonte. Get it? Belafonte used to sing calypso. Hehehe. Well, that's the kind of humor you'll find with Team Zissou. I think it's hilarious...but that's me and this is just a warning. Anyway, Captain Zissou, (whose insignia looks like the Mark of Zorro), and his crew are filming a documentary about "The Life Aquatic." During the film's 1st stage, Part 1, Zissou's partner and close friend Esteban, is devoured by a Great Jaguar Shark, like Jonah and the whale. However, I think the Jaguar Shark, which makes "Jaw's" monster Great White look like a guppy, does a bit more crunching and munching. There's blood in the water! In other words, Esteban is not swallowed whole! Steve takes an emotional turn for the worse after the death, and his Captain Ahab side emerges, as he goes in quest of vengeance, to reap havoc upon the great leviathan.
Underneath all the fame and misfortune, Steve is an insecure, middle-age man in the midst of a long-term mid-life crisis. He feels like a wash-out, his best years behind him. However, he does manage to recover enough self-esteem to hit on pregnant, unmarried journalist Jane Winslett-Richardson, (Cate Blanchett), who is writing a magazine feature about the expedition. When Steve is approached on the eve of the voyage by Ned Plimpton, (Owen Wilson), an intelligent young Southern gentleman and an airplane pilot for Kentucky Airlines, he is forced to confront his past. Ned may be his son, a love child. Zissou gives the young man a red cap and a Speedo, like the rest of the crew, and invites him to be his new assistant. He also renames him Kingsley (Ned) Zissou and buys him embossed stationery with his new moniker.
Other wild and crazy team members are the faithful, and ever so strange, German assistant Klaus, (Willem Dafoe), Jeff Goldblum as Steve's arch rival, nemesis, and much better financed competitor, Hennessey, (who wears an "I'm A Pepper" T-shirt), Michael Gambon is the supercilious financier Drakoulias, and Bud Cort plays the amiable, mild-mannered bond company rep, called the "Bond Stooge," who fortunately happens to speak Tagalog. I say fortunately because they are boarded at one point by vicious Philippine pirates. So add some Tom Clancy action, an extreme and perverse version, along with Moby Dick, the Bill Murray/Jacques Cousteau shtick, and director Wes Anderson's shenanigans - are you getting the picture?
The Zissou crew of mongrel miscreants returns to the water once again to film Part 2. Other team members are an ex bus driver, a former substitute teacher, a topless script girl, and various summer interns who don't get paid, but do get college credits for mixing Steve's Camparis on the rocks and acting as all around gofers. Eleanor, (Anjelica Huston), is Mrs. Zissou number 2 or 3. She comes from a wealthy family, who is frequently called upon to foot the bill for the underwater ventures. Eleanor thinks she'll sit out the hunt for Moby shark. She takes off for their private island, abandoning her post as the chief logistics officer. This stresses everyone, except Mrs. Zissou. Eleanor is considered the brains behind Zissou and Co..
There are some wonderful details in the film, especially when the crew submerges in their updated WWII submarine. The fanciful, sometimes psychedelic sea creatures are created by Henry Selick. There are rhinestone bluefish, a crayoned coat of many colored seahorse, beautifully striped sugar crabs, and the most marvelous Jaguar Shark. As I mentioned, we are also treated to a pirate attack, (where Steve saves the day), a hostage rescue, (where Steve saves the day), a mutiny, (during which Steve grovels for love and sympathy), a romance, (where Steve's a loser), death and violence...none of which is to be taken seriously. Seriously. Well, maybe there are one or two solemn moments. Otherwise, "The Life Acuatic" is a lark. And perhaps, I'm warped.
on July 12, 2010
The first time I watched this, I really didnt like it. Then I gave it another chance and absolutely fell in love with it. It is now easily my favorite movie, one I could watch over and over again and never get bored with. Wes Anderson creates amazing scenes filled with his aquatic life. Bill Murray is perfect, a very dry and grizzled man that only he can play. He is hilarious. If you arent into dry, witty and sometimes sarcastic humor, than this movie most likely isnt for you. Red Caps and Speedos for all!
Wes Anderson isn't for everyone. He's kind of like Christopher Guest ("Waiting for Guffman", "Best in Show"), where the viewer really has to "get" the joke. The difference is, even when you do "get the joke" with Anderson, you still may not be belly laughing.
Unlike Guest, Anderson isn't throwing out a bunch of one liners that you have to catch; but like Guest, you have to pay attention. In "Life Aquatic", Anderson creates an incredibly complex world that is slightly off from reality. I don't think I laughed out loud once during the entire movie, yet I was smiling and chuckling to myself the entire time. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, and can't wait to watch it again.
"The Life Aquatic" is basically about a once respected underwater nature documentarian, Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), who is feeling his age and lack of relevance. He tries to revitalize himself by trying gain a connection a young man (Owen Wilson) who may, or may not, be his son.
There are so many things that I love about this film. The cast is impeccable. Bill Murray and Angelica Huston are amazing. Owen Wilson, for once, didn't annoy me. Willem Dafoe practically steals the show in a wonderfully uncharacteristic performance.
Really, the thing I love about this movie is that atmosphere. It is on the verge of being a drama, and yet it's so silly. There is a wonderful soundtrack of David Bowie sung in Portuguese by a Brazilian troubadour, played by Seu Jorge. He is ubiquitous through the film, and is making subtle comments on the scenes, like a Greek chorus. Jorge is backed up by a wonderful score written by Devo's Mark Mothersbaugh. Other great additions to the film are the bizarre stop motion underwater creatures created by Henry Selick, the director of "The Nightmare Before Christmas". The stop motion looked so unique, that I thought it was computer graphics! The sets are incredibly detailed, and scenery (filmed mostly in Rome and Naples) is simply amazing.
If you like Anderson or movies by Christopher Guest, I think you'd really enjoy this film. If you like intelligent, quirky, off the wall films, this is definitely for you. I know I'll be watching this many times.
on April 4, 2006
If your attention span demands a laugh-a-second or action-a-second, this film is not for you. The rest of you, don't dismiss this film - give it a chance. It straddles the edges of drama, comedy, adventure, and parody. If you can't handle that a movie can cut across each of these genres then you are not going to like this film. If you can handle it - it is going to take you on an emotional roller coaster - you are going to laugh, feel disgust, dislike for some of the characters and what they say and do (maybe all of them...), then some sadness, empathy, tinged with a bit of aw shucks. It's going to wow you, at the same time, with its intense coloration, in-joke animation, and brilliant score. It also smacks of late 60's early 70's cheesy B adventures - chiefly through its sets, costumes, cinematography and editing. There's a whole lot going on in The Life Aquatic that is so worthy of praise. You will watch it over and over again and find new delights. It's humble, dramatic, sensitive, absurd, silly, funny, and beautiful on screen and in soundtrack. Yep, it is all this and it works - believe it! Better yet, it doesn't secrete any self-aware big-headedness in its innovation. It's wonderful to see something complex, engaging in a Hollywood that is full of same-old same old, glam and gloss, predictable plots, and formula dramatics. This film's a little gem.
on August 26, 2006
I'm a Professor of marine biology, and i have to say, that this is as close as it gets. Part fantasy, part oddball, but so close to the reality of how it is... it is amazing. I am stunned by the backlash from movie reviewers. As Antonia Cook would say "they just didn't get it". For the rest of us it's easy, relax and enjoy what life and its screwups, marine biology, being at sea and fathers and sons are all about.
This movie makes the universe a better place to be, something I would not say of most.
on May 20, 2005
Has the general movie-going public lost all sense of the subtle?!!
Do you all live and die by the mighty swish of the Light saber and the whims of the Sith?
This movie pays homage to the ridiculous 'horror' movies of the 60s as well as the idiocy that were the 'Nature Docu-Dramas' of Jacques Yves Cousteau. If you haven't experienced either or if you can't sit through a movie in which the explosions don't actually rip the skin off your face, then you won't dig this.
The movie has intricately recreated, 'bad' special effects to add to the surreal-ness of the whole experience. It's not intended to be 'realistic.' C'mon people, work with me here! Restore some of the faith I had in the idea that society was comprised mostly of intelligent, free-thinking individuals with an attention span somewhat longer than you're average car chase in Too-Fast, Too-Furious.
The dialogue is somewhat skewed as well, wich adds to the over-all feel of the movie.
The movie has a carefully constructed 'unpolished' feel to it that suspends belief quite nicely, never letting you fall back into your seat.
It's one of Bill Murrey's best and he deserved an Oscar nod for this much more than for 'Sleepless in Tokyo' or whatever it was called (Lost in Translation).
I guess the general observation that it's "not for everybody" is right on...
Thank the sweet heavens above!
on July 19, 2014
This movie is polarizing. The reviews for it illustrate as much.
When I first saw it, in the theater, I was nonplussed to moderately amused and I hated the ending that I, then, found to be, what's the word? Mushy? That was part of it, but that word doesn't encapsulate my entire feeling about that shark at the time. I think that I felt that the shark was a bit like a giant Disney animatronic animal that shouldn't have been used for the denouement of any film worth seeing (take that, shark!). However my prior feeling is articulated, I can state that the ending didn't sit well with me. For years, I maintained that opinion and, unsurprisingly, didn't watch it again during that period. Then I started watching through all of Wes Anderson's films again and, when I ran out of films to watch, I again watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
After the second and third time I watched it, it grew on me. I grew to like the, yes, 'mushy' ending in light of the emotional fragility, insecurity, and chronic tragedy that the characters were subject to throughout the film. A cheap trick? Maybe. I might care more if the film wasn't so painfully original and well acted.
It only gelled for me on repeated viewings. I believe that this is because there is a lot going on, and its difficult to keep up in a way that properly organizes the totality of the story in terms of character nuance, and even the general story line, until it is viewed repeatedly. Can one call such a fantastical dark comedy complex? If you can, then it assuredly applies to this film; although, at first blush the complexity might not be perceived. All you may remember is Bill Murray being both sad and angry, Seu Jorge doing Bob Marley covers, and a giant leopard shark swimming to Sigur Ros. My point is, on first viewing, the movie can seem like a bit of a blur punctuated by a CGI shark and I can see how it could be written off. However, If you enjoy creative films, my advice is to give it a second and even a third chance that will allow for a closer look.
The above might seem like an over-analysis, but it's the best explanation that I can come up with that elucidates how this movie can go from mediocre at best, in my eyes, to, in my opinion, perhaps Wes Anderson's best. It is his best at least from the perspective of a movie that is, in my opinion, both his most creative as well as one that is successful in what it attempts to do.
Other movies of his are successful in telling a fascinating, well written story (ie: The Royal Tenenbaums), and are exceedingly creative but ultimately less so than The Life Aquatic. Still other movies of his, like Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, are superficially creative in their set designs and other Anderson-esque style markers, but in my opinion, fall flat in terms of their story and dialogue creativity (especially if re-used stylistic signature is taken into account).
I enjoy this movie immensely, and there isn't another film that is remotely like it. I go back and forth as to whether this or The Darjeeling Limited, a simpler film that I find to be Anderson's most pleasurable movie to (re)watch, is his overall 'best'. You can check in with my review on that latter-mentioned film's amazon page for a more thorough exposition on those thoughts (and more The Life Aquatic Angst).
on May 23, 2005
...and that's OK. For me, this was the funniest movie I've seen in years. I was in a near continual state from chuckling to snorting wine out my nose! Let me try to explain the joke;
First, Willem Dafoe - My image of Dafoe is from 'Wild at Heart'and 'White Sands' - Evil and other-worldly far outside my paradigm. To see him play Klause the sissified German was side splitting. I had never seen him play comedy.
Anjelica Hustan - I love this handsome, sophisticated woman. Most remembered by me for 'The Grifters'. Never seen her do comedy. Dead-pan hilarious and cool.
Michael Gambon - 'The Singing Detective'. His acting here is just as spot on for those with eyes to see it. Highly watchable.
This was my first Wes Anderson movie. The wit is dry, adult, and somewhat surrealistic - like dark humor without being dark. From the reviews I have read you either love him or hate him. If your in the former catagory then tell your friends and spread the word - this type of movie is all too rare.