THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU
Special Edition Two Disc Set
Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem
Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort
Director: Wes Anderson
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2005
must swear, legally swear, that you will not kill that shark, or whatever it is,
if it exists.”
fight it, but I’ll let it live. What about my dynamite?”
It started in 1996
with a little film called Bottle Rocket,
and since then writer/director Wes Anderson has become the master of the quirky,
carefully observant character comedy. He progressed in 1998 with the outstanding
Rushmore and in 2001 with the superb The
Royal Tenenbaums. He could very much be considered Woody Allen, but with a
more eccentric touch.
Now Anderson has
delivered his most ambitious film offering in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Like Royal Tenenbaums, the film has assembled a most terrific ensemble;
led by Bill Murray in a wonderful performance that can easily be matched with
his Oscar nominated turn in Lost in
Translation. Where as Anderson’s first three films were pretty much
straight up comedies, The Life Aquatic
does go in some unexpected areas.
Murray stars as the
title character, Steve Zissou, a famed oceanographer. Zissou, with the help of a
documentary film crew, captures his underwater expeditions on film. The latest
film piece, titled “The Jaguar Shark”, is presented before an audience in
Italy. This film stands out for the sole reason that one of Team Zissou’s
members, Esteban (Seymour Cassel) was eaten by the very shark they set out to
film’s premiere, Zissou takes questions from a speechless audience. He then
announces that he will immediately proceed back to the ocean to find the shark
and kill it, preferably with dynamite. He then gets an unexpected surprise
following the premiere upon meeting a young man named Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson)
who may or may not be Steve’s long lost son.
Ned is a pilot from
Kentucky whose mother just passed away. Before she died, he was then told that
Steve Zissou was indeed his father. No matter what the case is, Steve invites
Ned to become a member of Team Zissou during this expedition/suicide mission.
While he doesn’t immediately admit to being Ned’s father, he is eager to
know more about this stranger.
boat vessel is named The Bellafonte, which harbors a most eccentric crew of
divers and filmmakers. Among this crew is Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) who happens
to be Steve’s ex-wife in addition to being the former wife of Steve’s arch
rival, Alistair Hennessy (Jeff Goldblum). There’s also German diver, and long
time Team Zissou member Klaus (Willem Dafoe), a financial representative named
Bill (Bud Cort), dubbed by Zissou “Stooge”, sent to oversee that the crew
stays on budget, and cameraman named Pele (Seu Jorge) who also performs David
Bowie songs in Portuguese.
Also along for the
ride is Jane (Cate Blanchett), a magazine writer who intends to profile Zissou
for an upcoming issue. Zissou discovers that she’s come to ask the
hard-hitting personal questions instead of traditional ones for a puff-piece,
and then regrets that she was invited in the first place. Jane, who happens to
be pregnant, also ignites an unexpected fling with Ned, which stuns Steve since
he was attracted to her as well.
One of the first
stops Zissou makes is by is a station owned by Hennessy to steal some equipment.
While en route to the Jaguar Shark’s location, Team Zissou hits a bump in the
road, or water, when they come across a band of pirates. The crew’s vault is
stolen and the Stooge is taken hostage. Zissou, whose team is each supplied with
a glock before shipping off, soon fights back in a funny and
While I liked the
film, I must say that, given Anderson’s track record thus far, that I had
higher expectations for it. The story does occasionally wander, while not having
a central focus. However, the film makes up for that with a splendid production
design, terrific directing, some nice little moments of animation involving the
marine life that is examined, and some individual laugh out loud moments. And
like all of Wes Anderson’s films, there is some terrific music provided, this
time around mostly by classic David Bowie tracks. The closing scenes are
accompanied by one of my all time favorite Bowie songs, “Queen Bitch”.
So while The
Life Aquatic might be something of a step back for Anderson following the
back to back gems Rushmore and The Royal
Tenenbaums, it is still an exceptional piece of filmmaking from a true
original. Murray and the ensemble cast are simply dynamite, and it is one film
that is certainly unlike anything out there.
efforts of Criterion and Disney have resulted in yet another fantastic looking
presentation. Wes Anderson has always had a unique vision, and that vision
always resonates brilliantly on DVD, as is the case with The Life Aquatic. Everything from the splendid sets, to the
outstanding colors, to the frequent wide-angle shots made for the widescreen
format result in a fully detailed picture that is certain to go on record as one
of the best looking discs of this year.
With the option of
Dolby Digital or DTS, the 5.1 mix delivers enough bang to elevate this dialogue
driven piece to an unexpected level. A few sequences, such as two gunfights,
provide some magnificent surround sound power. The biggest factor of the
presentation is the music, whether its songs by David Bowie, Big Brother and
Holding Company or the score by Mark Mothersbaugh (who’s scored all of
Anderson’s films). The closing credit sequence, backed up by Bowie’s
“Queen Bitch” is one of the most outstanding music bits I’ve ever heard in
There are two
editions being offered for this release, a single disc and a double disc, but
anyone who is familiar with Criterion will want to dock with this marvelous two
disc set edition. You will definitely get a lot more for your buck. To start
with, it comes in a wonderful looking package, where under the slipcover you
will see yet another distinct cover design for the film, courtesy of
illustrations by Eric Anderson.
Disc One includes a
commentary track with Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach, ten deleted
scenes, a “Starz On-the-Set” featurette, and a theatrical trailer.
Disc Two goes
underneath the water surface and beyond the movie in true Criterion fashion.
There’s a lengthy production diary titled “This Is An Adventure”, which chronicles the entire production
of the film, “Mondo Monda”,
an Italian talk show interview segment with Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, a
video interview with composer, and Devo member, Mark Mothersbaugh, ten complete
video performances of David Bowie songs in Portuguese by costar and musician Seu
Jorge. Also featured is an Intern video journal by actor and real-life intern
Matthew Gray Gubler (Intern #1 in the film), and multiple interviews with the
cast and crew with behind-the-scenes footage. Lastly, there are behind the
scenes photos and original artwork from the film.