ninth symphony films - movie reviews

THE LIFE ACQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004)


DIRECTOR  -  wes anderson

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  118 minutes

RELEASED  -  10 december 2004

DISTRIBUTOR  -  touchstone pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  the life aquatic

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $25,000,000
the life aquatic - a shot from the film

BUY THE DVD:

buy the dvd from the life aquatic at amazon.com

buy the dvd from the life aquatic at amazon.com


SYNOPSIS:
with a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, oceanographer steve zissou rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife, a journalist, and a man who may or may not be his son.




MOVIE FACT:
the character of "wolodarsky" was named after director wes anderson's close friend wallace wolodarsky, probably best-known as a writer on "the simpsons."


MOVIE FOTOS:

picture from the life aquatic with steve zissou

picture from the life aquatic with steve zissou

picture from the life aquatic with steve zissou

picture from the life aquatic with steve zissou



RATING:


four out of four possible stars

It's possible that the writer and director of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Wes Anderson, is headed toward the creation of his very own genre of film, given that each of his creations is so wholly unique. Slapping together a combination of elements that would, in any other filmmaker's hands, come together with less finesse, but in Anderson's hands seem to appear that they belong together. Who would have thought the graceful Anjelica Huston would seem so at home in a film where one of her female costars is perpetually topless? And who would have thought to put Willem Dafoe in a role where he wears such a tight-fitting bright aqua suit?

Creating a beautiful assortment of whimsical characters with even more slightly insane wardrobe choices, Aquatic is as interesting to look at as it is to listen to. The dialogue arguably is not the true highlight of the film (though it is certainly livelier than the offerings of most of this film's contemporaries). The true stars of this film are, in fact, its stars. This film is far from being, "all style and no substance." Beyond the fact that the substance is, in fact, very stylish, the characters are as equally so.

Led by the seriously outlandish Bill Murray, the actor pushes his character into the deliciously surreal while still retaining a grip on the reality needed to pull the audience into the wild story. As an eccentric oceanographer with a penchant for light blue Speedos and red knit hats, one might immediately draw comparisons to the real-life scientist, Jacques Cousteau. But the film is in no way a biography of Cousteau, neither does it hold the life of the sea as sacrosanct. Instead, Anderson and co-writer, Noah Baumbach push their characters into strange emotional tangles that don't have much to do with the life aquatic.

But this emphasis on character direction serves the film well, as some of the visual aspects of the film might have been hard to accept at face value if the characters hadn't been so absorbing. The underwater scenes featuring Steve and the Zissou crew swimming around in their bright aqua and yellow suits are made somewhat weird by the strange presentation of underwater life by the production designer (or the crewmembers responsible for the design of the ocean floor). Resembling the bright insanity of a fish tank filled with plastic flora and fauna, Steve and his crew almost look like a school of fish swimming around a very small fishbowl. But though these scenes have blatantly unbelievable visuals, the characters are the real focus of the story and viewers might find themselves surprised at how easy it becomes to accept the off-kilter portrayal of ocean sea life.

Using several actors who have seemingly become regulars in his unique brand of films, something Wes Anderson has a very good handle on is casting. Using actors in roles that they might not otherwise seem appropriate for, he makes the bizarre seem completely normal and forces the audience to accept his own take on reality. The approximate year in which his movies take place is never stated explicitly, but from the technology present in the films, one would assume that they are contemporary. But the monumental emphasis placed on costuming would have viewers believing these films hover somewhere around 1980. The colors, fabrics, styles, and cuts of the clothes are all dead-on early-eighties fashion tragedies with a few disco-era bloopers making it into the fray.

These interesting costuming choices are a constant in each of his films and it's difficult to determine if this quirk is something that comes from Anderson's mind or whether he simply employs costume designers who take their pallet in an entirely radical direction. It's probably a combination of both, as the final look and feel of a film is due to so many influences. What also stands out about Anderson's films is the amount of "interesting" stuff he is allowed to retain in his final cut. Working under the iron fist of the Disney company (this is a Touchstone film) is a tumultuous experience for most filmmakers and in this and his previous films (The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore were also Disney funded), Anderson is allowed to take his ideas far past the point of surreal and into an area that can still be considered creative in modern filmmaking.

There is not the slightest sign of anything used and/or, unless you consider that a few of Anderson's films possess the same type-face on the opening credits. There is also his penchant for using out-of-date wardrobe choices, but rather than label that method of costuming as "abused," it might more appropriately be considered a director's trademark. Of course, none of Anderson's incredible creativity would be worth a dime if actors like Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston weren't on the payroll. No matter what non-human visuals a director may present, unless a film happens to be a documentary featuring no humans and only the barren landscape of some distant ice flow, the film won't come across as strongly.

Beyond the inspired casting of Murray as Zissou and Huston as his wife, Anderson regular Owen Wilson stretches his acting legs well in his role as a man who "may or may not be" Zissou's son and he makes a convincing case regarding his talent for deadpan comedy. Likewise, Cate Blanchett, who plays a reporter pregnant with her married editor's son, fits in well with the other Anderson regulars and shows that she possesses a brilliant sense of timing, both for the dramatic and the comedic. Willem Dafoe is also well cast in his role as Zissou crewmember as is Jeff Goldblum, who plays a scientific adventurer with loads of money. As well, there are a mountain of well placed actors with smaller roles and each one seems to have had his or her role specifically written for him or her.

Moving beyond the faces on the screen and looking at the various locals and cinematographic elements of the film, director of photography Robert D. Yeoma, who has worked with Anderson as cinematographer on all four of his films, makes sure the film "looks like" a Wes Anderson film (the Anderson "style" seems to have been perfected with Tenenbaums and Aquatic). The use of classic rock songs is buoyed well by the original score composed by Mark Mothersbaugh (another crewmember who has served on all Anderson's films). The three elements of performance, cinematography, and music each have their own recognizable stamp and although they are each worthy of individual attention, they still fall together with grace.

As a director, Wes Anderson might be just lucky that his actors seem to fall into their roles like magic, or he might just have a better handle on filmmaking than most directors working in Hollywood today. Breaking most of the rules of conventional cinema, Anderson takes his respectable budget and makes life so much more interesting for movie fans and casual viewers alike. It's uncertain how long Anderson will be able to perpetuate his specific brand of cinema (movies filled with non-sequitors, strange wardrobes, and cheeky typefaces), but for the present, he has created something truly beautiful with The Life Aquatic. And can we please give Bill Murray the Oscar already??

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.


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