Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Reviewed by: Andrew Weil and Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
7 out of 10
Extras Rating:
9 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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Rating: R

Starring:
Bill Murray as Steve Zissou
Owen Wilson as Ned Plimpton
Cate Blanchett as Jane Winslett-Richardson
Anjelica Huston as Eleanor Zissou
Willem Dafoe as Klaus Daimler
Jeff Goldblum as Alistair Hennessey
Michael Gambon as Oseary Drakoulias
Noah Taylor as Vladimir Wolodarsky
Bud Cort as Bill Ubell
Seu Jorge as Pelé dos Santos
Robyn Cohen as Anne-Marie Sakowitz
Waris Ahluwalia as Vikram Ray
Pawel Wdowczak as Renzo Pietro
Seymour Cassel as Esteban du Plantier

Special Features:
New high-definition digital transfer, approved by director Wes Anderson and enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Commentary by Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach.

"This Is An Adventure," a documentary by Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, and Matthew Prinzing chronicling the production of the movie.

"Mondo Monda," an Italian talk show featuring an interview with Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, with host Antonio Monda.

New video interview with composer and Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh.

Ten complete video performances of David Bowie songs in Portuguese by Brazilian recording artist and actor Seu Jorge (Pelé dos Santos).

Intern video journal by actor and real-life intern Matthew Gray Gubler (Intern #1).

Multiple interviews with the cast and crew with behind-the-scenes footage.

"Starz On The Set": Behind-the-scenes featurette.

Ten deleted scenes

Theatrical trailer

Behind-the-scenes photos and original artwork from the film.

PLUS: A fold-out insert featuring a cutaway of the Belafonte, with Eric Anderson's original illustrations, and a conversation between Wes and Eric conducted in 2005.

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
DTS 5.1 Surround Sound
Running Time: 118 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following text is from the DVD cover:

"Internationally famous oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and his crew-Team Zissou-set sail on an expedition to hunt down the mysterious, elusive, possibly nonexistent Jaguar Shark that killed Zissou's partner during the documentary filming of their latest adventure. They are joined on their voyage by a young airline co-pilot, who may or may not be Zissou's son (Owen Wilson), a beautiful journalist (Cate Blanchett) assigned to write a profile of Zissou, and his estranged wife and co-producer, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston). They face overwhelming complications, including pirates, kidnapping, and bankruptcy. Oscar-nominated writer-director Wes Anderson (2001, The Royal Tenenbaums, Best Original Screenplay) has assembled an all-star cast that also includes Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, and Bud Cort for this wildly original adventure-comedy."

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is rated R for language, some drug use, violence, and partial nudity.

The Movie:
Wes Anderson has invited audiences into his wacky world for a fourth time with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The aforementioned world is much larger in scale (as Anderson's budget has been upped), as his storytelling abilities decrease slightly compared to his earlier films (possibly due to his new writing partner, Noah Baumbach.) What is achieved is a bizarre, fanciful world where Henry Selick's animation and Anderson's deadpan dialogue strangely coexist to pay homage to Anderson's childhood hero, Jacques Cousteau.

As the title points out, the film's main character is Steve Zissou (inhabited by the indelible and pitch-perfect Bill Murray), famed oceanographer and renowned documentary filmmaker. Anderson opens with the introduction of Zissou's latest film, which features the demise of Zissou's partner by way of a mythical sea creature. Before departing on his current mission to hunt and kill the creature that ate his partner, Zissou is approached by his estranged son, Ned (former Anderson writing partner, Owen Wilson). Ned is recruited by the elder Zissou to join Team Zissou on his ship, The Belafonte, as they embark on their latest mission/documentary film.

The joy of any Wes Anderson film lies in the details, as few other modern filmmakers seems so obsessed with getting every detail of the film correctly. The Life Aquatic is no exception, featuring a giant vessel dubbed the Belafonte, where most of the film unfolds. Via a giant cross-section of the ship, the various rooms of the ship are explored via voice-over; the look of the ship is extremely detailed and the effects of the scene are polarizing. Many will not be "with" the film after this scene, while those who find the scene enthralling will thoroughly enjoy the remainder of the movie. This make-it-or-break-it scene looks fantastic on film and I found it an asset to the film, as it sets the tone of what is to come. Other rich details of the film include the Zissou team's identical outfits (including embossed Adidas sneakers), Anderson's signature typographical font (Futura Bold for those interested) applied on any text seen in the film, Seu Jorge's wonderful renditions of David Bowie songs in Portuguese, and many others that enrich the film greatly.

Anderson has dubbed Bill Murray's performance in the film Brando-esqe in interviews and his compliment isn't far off. Murray's expressionless delivery is perfectly suited to Anderson and Baumbach's equally dry dialogue. While Murray is easy to laugh at, he is never allowed to come into his own emotionally until the end of the film. The climactic scene is a beauty and really imbues Zissou with a large amount of heart that is dreadfully missed in early sequences. Zissou seems a comfortable role for Murray, as he has been playing the enlightened curmudgeon type in almost every movie as of late. Other standouts in the diverse cast include Willem Dafoe's madcap shipmate Klaus, Jeff Goldblum as Zissou's equally kooky archrival, and Cate Blanchett as a reporter swept away in the nutty world of Steve Zissou.

While Anderson's other films have included the similar attention to detail and such eclectic casts, The Life Aquatic suffers various screenplay problems. While the opening of the film is a joy to watch, there is a long lull after the sizeable cast has been introduced until a major event kicks the film into high gear straight to the fantastic climax. While the lull does feature some humorous moments, it's a serious problem as any momentum that the film gained in the opening is now lost on the already weary audience; three to four people walked out in the middle of the film and I believe it was due to the skewed pacing of the middle of the film.

While many will pan the film comparing it to Anderson's past works, The Life Aquatic stands on its own as a genuine piece of great, progressive filmmaking for the hardworking director. Henry Selick's animated sea creatures add greatly to the film, as well as the larger scope of the film's Italian locale. The film was shot in the legendary Cinecitta Studios in Rome and there is a definite European feel. Anderson's camera work has never been so strong; his frames are full of eye candy, prompting the viewer to return to the theater to see what they missed the first time around. There is much to look at besides the wonderful performances in the film, as the sets and locations have a distinct look that gels perfectly with the film.

Ultimately, I'd recommend the film because of Anderson's unique direction and the fantastic performances of his more-than-able cast.

The Extras:
This 2-Disc Special Edition Set is jam packed with bonus features. Here are the highlights:

Ten Deleted Scenes – In one of the deleted scenes, you see a new aquatic creature that's like an octopus that turns inside out. Another deleted scene features a little more interaction between Ned and Eleanor where she tries to sort out who he is. The rest of the scenes are very, very brief. Steve complains more about the dolphins, there's a little more about the swamp leeches, and there's more of the mutiny scene.

Commentary by Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach – This commentary is a little odd in that it was recorded in the restaurant where the co-writers wrote the script. There's a lot of background noise from a busy restaurant. But that aside, Anderson and Baumbach provide a lot of info about the development of the script, the filming of the movie, the extras, etc.

"This Is An Adventure," a documentary by Antonio Ferrera, Albert Maysles, and Matthew Prinzing chronicling the production of the movie - This is mainly a lot of behind the scenes footage that is put together into an extensive documentary. You see Murray clowning around on the set, a lot of joking behind the scenes, and more. It quickly becomes apparent that Murray was a key factor behind the good mood on the set. The footage shows everything from costume fittings to the final days of the production. It's a very intimate look at the making of A Life Aquatic.

"Mondo Monda," an Italian talk show featuring an interview with Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, with host Antonio Monda – I'm not sure, but his interview really seems like a parody of an Italian talk show. I could be wrong, but the whole setup and the questions are so silly that it has to be fake. Anyway, Anderson and Baumbach talk quite a lot about the script and getting the movie made in between incredibly awkward and funny moments in the interview..

New video interview with composer and Devo member Mark Mothersbaugh – I was a little surprised to learn that the composer for Wes Anderson's films was a former member of Devo. But that aside, he delivers a really interesting score…that sounds like it was done on a Casio. This was done at the request of Anderson, of course. He explains the entire scoring process as well as his working relationship with Wes Anderson…all while holding a pug in his lap.

Ten complete video performances of David Bowie songs in Portuguese by Brazilian recording artist and actor Seu Jorge (Pelé dos Santos) – If you liked these musical performances in the film, you'll enjoy the full unedited performances included on the DVD.

Intern video journal by actor and real-life intern Matthew Gray Gubler (Intern #1) – I found this to be one of the more enjoyable bonus features because everyone clowns around with Gubler behind the scenes. You see one cast member send him a scary video, all of them goofing around inside the submarine set, Bill Murray inviting all the interns to his trailer for a goodbye, and more. It's just a real intimate look behind the scenes at the making of the movie.

Multiple interviews with the cast and crew with behind-the-scenes footage – Several videos in the bonus features highlight Owen Wilson as Ned Plimpton, Cate Blanchett as Jane Winslett-Richardson, and Seymour Cassel as Esteban du Plantier. The videos show behind the scenes footage, interviews with the cast members about their characters, early costume designs, and more. Blanchett even reveals how she found out she was pregnant right before shooting of her role as a pregnant reporter. There are also interviews with the set designers, the visual effects crew, the costumers, and other crew members.

"Starz On The Set": Behind-the-scenes featurette – This is your standard "making of" video from the Starz cable channel. They recap the movie, interview cast and crew, and sho a lot of behind he scenes footage.

The Bottom Line:
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is not the best Wes Anderson film, but it should certainly entertain his fans. A fun performance by Bill Murray also makes it quite enjoyable.

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