The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou review by Tom Blain

Life A-Blah-tic(man am I clever!)

In his previous film, Royal Tenenbaums , Wes Anderson created a masterpiece. Tenenbaums dealt with the demons within a dysfunctional family of former wunderkind. Now in their 20s and 30s, the former geniuses are trying to cope with accepting their estranged, insensitive father, as well as deal with their own personal issues. It was a funny and touching film, filled with great performances and tiny trademark nuances. For his follow-up, Anderson chose to use many of the same actors (Huston, Murray, and Owen Wilson) for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Coming off a big hitter, I was anticipating great things, but found I was let down by a film that lacked much of the magic of his previous movie.

The film opens with an introduction to the characters via Steve Zissous (Bill Murray) latest underwater documentary during a screening in France. Zissou is a poor mans Jacques Cousteau. He had some growing popularity back in the day, but is now more B-movie than headliner. Lately he has not been the most successful underwater documentarian, and he doesnt exactly seem to be the brains behind his own work. The brains would be his wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston). While on his last dive, Zissou lost his partner and good friend Esteban du Plantier to a shark attack. He states that part 2 of his documentary will a revenge piece: him vs. the jaguar shark. Not exactly the politically correct material suitable for a scientific documentary, but it generates some laughs. Along the way he crosses paths with Air Kentucky pilot Ned Plimpton, who claims to be his son. There is little certainty in this claim. No one really knows for sure and no one takes a blood test, but the stories match up and its more fun to pretend they are kin than not.

The movie continues to cross over sub plot and sub plot as Zissou attempts to turn the corner and make one more great sea documentary on a shoe-string budget. Unfortunately the movie, criss-crosses and zig-zags a little too much. There is a pair of are triangular love scandals, jealousies aboard the ship, sea pirates capture someone, and a rescue mission is established. Some of it is funny and entertaining. Some of it is banal. Nearly all of it is distracting and removes us from the main plot and what is fun about the film.

What are the fun parts? The imaginative eye candy for starters. The CGI sea creatures seemed like something from Neverland. Unfortunately the moments where the divers were actually diving and studying the creatures were few and far between. So we really only saw a good dosage of these at the beginning and end. Scenes exploring the giant Belafonte ship set were also quite unique. It appears Anderson created a giant life-sized cut-a-way set of the ship for some of the indoor scenes. Its a tiny joy, but one none-the-less.

Some of Andersons greatest work is in his creation of the mirco-worlds that the characters live within. In Life Aquatic there seems to be an underground celebrity gained by these Jaques Cousteau types. Those outside of the world probably dont even know of its existence. Minute details such as the trademark red caps, Team Zissou rings, and the rival groups of underwater explorers give this film a fantasy feeling beyond the unnatural computer creatures.

The characters, for the most part are modifications on previous characters. Murrays character is well like a lot of Murrays other characters (Herman Blume from Rushmore for example): a deadpan jerky sort of guy. Hustons character is much like her Ethenline Tenenbaum character only a bit more distant. However, some like Claus Daimler played by Willem Dafoe, are a bit more clever and oddly funny. They all have their quirks, and personality traits that Anderson is known for writing in, but none of them are as endearing as his characters from the past.

On some stylistic level, I enjoyed Life Aquatic because at least Anderson breaks up the story telling monotony of most movie visits. However, there were too many flaws and not enough truly enjoyable moments that warrant me recommending it to the common movie-goer.




5 out of 10 Jackasses
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