Monday, 21 September 2020
The Life Aquatic, With Steve Zissou
Monday, 03 January 2005 17:47

Wes Anderson proves once again that he is a master of the ensemble cast in his latest dramedy "The Life Aquatic, with Steve Zissou".

The mildly arrogant and impasive Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is an oceanographer and filmmaker inspired by Jacques Cousteau. "Team Zissou" is made up of his friends and relatives, who have absolutely no scientific background but have developed a cult following. The problem is their popularity is dwindling and without another hit film, they have no funding for further adventures. Enter Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who claims to be the biological son Steve never knew he had. Ned joins the team in what could be their last adventure, tracking down the "jaguar shark" that Steve claims killed his best friend Esteban.

Though I haven't seen all of Andersons' films, I can attest to his flair for putting together weird and wonderful ensemble casts. There is no doubt that this film is propelled by well developed, subtle characters and the actors who play them. Among the colorful crew are Steve's aloof wife and "the brains of the operation" (Angelica Huston); a doting German engineer who craves attention (played by a scene stealing Willem Defoe); and a hard-nosed pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett).  Jeff Goldblum plays Steve's nemesis Alistair Hennessey, who's wealth and success are a constant thorn in Team Zissou's side.

Bill Murray himself is an example of the "fine wine" philosophy, proving that some things really do only get better with age. After earning an Oscar nomination for "Lost in Translation", he has gone on to choose another quirky and interesting film to showcase his talent for more subtle comedy. Owen Wilson, who makes me laugh even on a bad day, loses his crooked grin (but not his crooked nose!), to play a more serious role. Believe it or not he is the most normal of the characters.

The crafting of this movie is great. Portuguese versions of David Bowie songs sung by a crew member provide the soundtrack. Stop-motion animated creatures inhabit the ocean. These are just a couple of the extra touches that kept me on my toes. Worth a mention is the team's ship itself. For interior scenes a scale ship was built, which the actors could actually pass through from room to room, top to bottom, like a giant dollhouse. In one scene, the camera actually follows Steve and Ned through the entire ship in a cool continuous shot.

Over the course of the movie there are laughs, thrills, and a fair bit of sorrow. But as much as I liked this film, I can see that it wouldn't be for everybody. The plot can be a little slow, and some won't appreciate the deadpan humour. As for me, it caught me hook, line and sinker.

For all you Team Zissou recruits, I would highly recommend another Anderson flick; "The Royal Tennenbaums". Also, Bill Murray fans shouldn't miss "Lost in Translation" or the new Collector's Edition of "Ghostbusters", all available on DVD.