Mar 28, 2014

[Movies] The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

For those of you who came in late, I'll repeat this for the record - I love Wes Anderson movies. As strange as they are as with their crazy characters and quirky storylines, I totally enjoy them precisely because of those elements. It's a somewhat specialized type of movie to get into, but in the end it can be rather rewarding.

For one reason or another The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou slipped under my Wes Anderson radar and it was only recently that I finally addressed this gap. I suppose a bit part of why I missed out on this movie was that it came out during a fairly turbulent time in my life. It goes without saying that I didn't quite have as much time to watch movies then.

But the past is the past and we're back in the now. And I'm all the better for having watched this rather exceptional story. If anything, I think this is one of Anderson's movies with the most coherent, linear plot. Sure it had some side diversions here and there (it wouldn't be an Anderson movie without them), but on the whole it's simply a beautiful movie.

Synopsis: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a 2004 comedy-drama movie written and directed by Wes Anderson together with co-screenplay writer Noah Baumbach. The movie acts as both a sort of parody and homage to French diving pioneer Jacques Cousteau.

The movie begins by introducing us to oceanographer and documentarian Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and the crew of his research vessel, the Belafonte. The adventure we initially focus on is his hunt for a create that Zissou calls the "Jaguar shark" but that first story ends in tragedy as the his friend and crewman, Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassell ), is killed by the shark. Zissou is determined to prove the shark's existence and seek revenge for the death of his friend.

We then meet Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), who actually believes that Steve Zissou is his father. Thus he takes a leave of absence from his job as an airline pilot and goes out to meet Steve and his crew. He eventually volunteers to join them in the hopes of connecting with Steve and finding a way to confirm that he is in fact his son. And since he had gained an inheritance from the death of his mother, he also agrees to finance the expedition.

First, we need to talk about the Belafonte. As much as there was the actual ship that was used for filming the exterior shots, I really enjoyed the cutaway version of the ship that allowed Anderson to indulge in his favored long panning shots crossing rooms. That one set piece was a marvelous piece of construction that oddly reminded me of a giant ant farm playground environment that I had gotten to explore at a science museum way back during my childhood. And it wasn't some miniature used one - it was a decently-sized set that was revisited from time to time in order to explore the various goings-on in the ship.

Now the movie is filled with the usual host of crazy characters that one comes to expect from an Anderson movie. I guess the one that stands out the most is the safety expert who plays David Bowie songs in Portuguese for most of the movie. And as fun as he is, we can't get past Willem Dafoe as Klaus Daimler, the ever eager second-in-command who naturally has some issues with the addition of Ned Plimpton to the crew. As crazy as we've see Dafoe in other movies, the need for him to reign things in to some extent actually helped him deliver a more meaningful performance, I think.

The story as a whole is a bit more linear compared to this other movies, probably because there's the simple goal of catching the Jaguar shark. The only major side-plot is the love triangle between Steve, Ned and the pregnant reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), which in itself felt a little like the plot of the Anderson movie, Rushmore. To add insult onto injury, Murray was also involved in that particular love triangle.

At the same time, the movie still suffers from Anderson's love for slightly excessive indulgence in his own ideas. The side-plot involving rival oceanographer Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) was decently interesting, but it also sort of just muddied things overall. They were in the story, there's was minor build-up to their role in the story, and then they pretty much got dropped from the story. I won't go into the details to save you spoilers.

I liked The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, particularly for its more technical elements and the usual live and vibrant whimsy that we've come to associate with his movies. It features a lot of more familiar story elements from other stories, which may or may not have helped the overall impact of this film. As it stands the movie still gets a good 4 Portuguese David Bowie songs out of 5.

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