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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.8%
Average: 10.4%
Pretty Bad: 15.2%
Total Crap: 8%

9 reviews, 71 user ratings

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Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The
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by EricDSnider

"Wes Anderson at his Wes Anderson-iest."
4 stars

A Wes Anderson film is always a thing of inspired, calculated madness, so much like his other films that you'd think he made them all in the same month. His previous movies, "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums," established his template, and now "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" fills in the blanks again.

I say this as a Wes Anderson fan, but one who is becoming slightly less enamored of Anderson's cinematic tricks as time goes on. "The Life Aquatic" is a delight, but it doesn't feel as fresh and surprising as, say, "Rushmore" did. Still, I'll take a filmmaker who keeps using the same interesting devices over one who doesn't even know any.

The title character, played with typically understated aplomb by Bill Murray, is an oceanographer on the order of Jacques Cousteau, once a hailed documentarian but now in his waning years. His latest film, "The Life Aquatic Part 1," is greeted tepidly at a film festival, perhaps because audiences have grown out of ocean documentaries. Steve Zissou's work is pure '60s-style cheese, resembling the short films we used to watch in elementary school.

Steve's personal life is as somber as his professional life. His wife and business partner, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) -- who many whisper is the brains behind the operation -- is only barely on Steve's side after having been, at one point, the lover of Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum), Steve's chief rival in the cutthroat world of oceanography. Adding to his grief is the fact that his best friend Esteban was eaten by a jaguar shark while filming "The Life Aquatic Part 1." With little else left to lose, Steve has decided the goal of his next voyage will be to find and destroy the offending fish.

His ship, the Belafonte, is staffed by a loyal group of experts, (including Willem Dafoe as German cinematographer Klaus Daimler) and a handful of college interns, who are there (as are many elements in the film) mainly because Wes Anderson thought it would be amusing to put them there. They are joined by Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), a high-voiced British journalist for Oceanographic Explorer magazine who is doing a story on Steve. He hates the intrusion, but he needs the publicity.

They are also joined, at the last minute, by one Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a genteel pilot for a Kentucky-based airline. He is a life-long Steve Zissou fan and, according to his now-deceased mother, Steve's illegitimate son, too. Steve and Eleanor have no children. If he is to have a son before he dies, it will have to be Ned.

And so the crew embarks on a marvelous journey, looking for the jaguar shark, fleeing Hennessey because they stole his state-of-the-art equipment, running afoul of pirates (yes, pirates!), and putting up with the presence of a "bond company stooge" who's there to make sure Steve doesn't violate the terms of his insurance policy.

There is loopiness at every turn, like the crew member who serenades us with guitar-accompanied David Bowie songs sung in Portuguese, or the other crew member, a woman, who is always topless. Anderson belongs to the same school of filmmaking as the Coen Brothers, where even the characters with only a couple lines are brimming with kooky personality.

Steve Zissou is played with such precise sadness, longing and relentlessly off-kilter behavior by Bill Murray that many viewers will be turned off by his performance and will be upset when he gets nominated for another Oscar. Indeed, many viewers will be turned off by the film altogether, as it is surreal and stylized, with even ordinary conversations about ordinary things getting the Wes Anderson treatment (he co-wrote the script with Noah Baumbach).

But I think Murray is brilliant here, and superbly nuanced. He is emotionally closed-off, but not unfeeling. In fact, his keen sensitivity is why he's closed-off, a preemptive strike against potential sorrow. Seeing him and Wilson bond as father and possible son -- bond in their own peculiar Andersonian way, that is -- is evidence of the film's softer side.

But the fact remains that the film, like Steve Zissou, is emotionally distant. You almost have to work at it to feel what Steve and Ned are feeling, and I don't think it's wise of Anderson to make audiences have to toil just to get his point. If you don't go to the effort, you'll still come away having seen a very funny movie, but you'll have missed some of the depth.

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originally posted: 01/02/05 19:25:07
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User Comments

7/25/14 Evil Robot Like Big Lebowski, trusts you to see humor without "laugh now" cues. Better film for it. 5 stars
3/05/14 Mallatrinho Esteban was EATEN. 5 stars
6/07/13 Robert Great film, misunderstood by many. Its absurd and has a lot of heart. 5 stars
3/04/13 Langano Love Wes, but this one is a swing & a miss. 2 stars
9/30/12 roscoe Bad and absolutely not funny, entertaining, or adventurous 2 stars
5/22/09 Alex greate movie plot the filming the effect the colors incredible the MUUUUUSIC 5 stars
1/05/09 YMC You'll get the jokes the 2nd time around esp after you've watched some scuba diving movies. 5 stars
12/20/08 brian DJ says "You need intelligence to appreciate it." I belong to MENSA and hated it. 1 stars
11/20/08 Mike You won't like it if you're close-minded or ignorant. Otherwise have fun. 5 stars
11/19/08 Matt C. I don't like movies with so few likeable characters. Quirky=good. Nonsympathetic=bad 3 stars
11/03/08 Shaun Wallner Hilarious Movie! 5 stars
10/01/08 Colin this movie is amazing 5 stars
8/27/08 DJ Best movie of 2004 by a mile. You need intelligence to appreciate it however. 5 stars
5/31/08 telkontar Hated the lack of humor, but was thrilled that I kept watching about 80% through. Strange. 4 stars
5/28/08 Ian I saw it a while ago and fell asleep, but I gave it another go and totally loved it 4 stars
5/25/08 ej Truly one of my top ten movies ever--a bit quirky for most tastes it seems 5 stars
5/20/08 Leanne i've decided that this is my favorite film that i've seen in my entire life. incredible. 5 stars
5/07/08 Ash one of the funniest/best movies ever 5 stars
4/19/08 Andrea its a great wes andreson film but you have to like strange movies 5 stars
3/11/08 brew HORRIBLE!! 1 stars
1/27/07 Tamara D. Leonard :::SNORE::: 1 stars
1/11/07 Jake This movie was really strangely amusing... 5 stars
11/04/06 MP Bartley Does Anderson ever really care about his characters or just their quirks? 3 stars
10/07/06 Dave Wyatt Possibly the Greatest Film ever made. Good in the same way as Jim Jarmusch 5 stars
9/28/06 steve their will never be another one like this one, truly great 5 stars
6/05/06 megan not good at all 1 stars
2/21/06 Jim Odd, but worth sticking with. 4 stars
1/18/06 Naka About 1/4 as good as it should have been. :( 3 stars
11/28/05 Will We rented this movie based on a "friend's" recommendation and now we know who not to listen 2 stars
7/12/05 Tom Benton Beautiful, funny, highly artistic, but ultimately confused. 4 stars
7/08/05 Charlie Very funny, except the ending sucked. I thought this was supposed to be a comedy! 4 stars
6/30/05 jim young This movie suckes the big one. glad I did not pay to see it. but my time is still gone. 1 stars
6/29/05 mwildema How horrible can something be? 1 stars
6/15/05 R from the makers of Obligatory Drug Use comes: Quirky Direction - you can't ALWAYS be funny. 1 stars
6/14/05 E-FUNK Genious. Anderson's films get better upon every release. I can watch this over and over. 5 stars
5/31/05 Mckrob fantastic! I want to see it again... 5 stars
5/27/05 Dan What the fuck did I just watch? 2 stars
5/19/05 Cindy Sheeks EXTREMELY quirky. You gotta like that kind of film to enjoy this one. 3 stars
5/17/05 ELI Liked it a lot better the 2nd time. Love the 3 legged doggie! 4 stars
5/13/05 mitch a tad overlong and a bit underdeveloped, expect to see sights unseen in an Anderson movie. 4 stars
4/18/05 Renita Long bill murray rocks 4 stars
4/06/05 Daniel So many little things to like. I loved it every time. 5 stars
4/02/05 Ben Richardson The best film I've seen in a long time. I would highly recomend this movie to everyone 5 stars
3/30/05 shreif elassaly 5 stars
3/25/05 malcontent rushmore is still Anderson's high watermark, but this one is quirky galore 4 stars
3/01/05 Graham I hate to be smug and say people are too dumb to see the pulsing emotion... and yet... 5 stars
2/14/05 Nathan Wilhite Probably will grow on me just like Wes Anderson's others 4 stars
1/12/05 clarance the cobra see it just for dafoe...fucking great! 4 stars
1/11/05 Abbath Engrossing setting, very quirky but always entertaining. 5 stars
1/10/05 jeff garbage. unique in a baaad way. 1 stars
1/10/05 bernard Worst movie ever. Stupid moronic meaningless 1 stars
1/09/05 pin It won't make the studio happy - Too sublime for mainstream 5 stars
1/09/05 burton miller marvelous, bizarre, unique 5 stars
1/08/05 Lucas Stenz best American film of 2004 5 stars
1/08/05 Daniel I hate Owen Wilson and still love the movie 5 stars
1/05/05 Dunce Some good moments but the story dragged. Dafoe's character and performance were brilliant. 3 stars
1/03/05 KingNeutron Once again Murray makes it look effortless; only problem was, all fish looked FAKE. 4 stars
12/31/04 Titus Holy disjointed and pointless movie Batman! Anybody know the Phantom Editor? 2 stars
12/29/04 Vince I think i like it as much as Rushmore. 5 stars
12/29/04 Landshark rich in depth and detail, teeming with curiosities 5 stars
12/29/04 harold unbelievably clever, hilarious 5 stars
12/29/04 burton miller bizarre, dramatic, unpredictable, excellent 5 stars
12/28/04 carleton so fine, clever, hilarious, great acting, touching, colorful 5 stars
12/27/04 nick2k definately not co-written by owen, but still great from beginning to end. & theres action! 5 stars
12/26/04 ajay my least favorite wes anderson movie. hopefully the next one's better. 3 stars
12/24/04 jcjs gees, could've been great...lacking something 3 stars
12/16/04 FrayLo glad i saw this for was quite forgettable. 2 stars
12/15/04 raivan354 SUCKS ALL ASS, not funny, BORING as drying paint 1 stars
12/08/04 Ray Pretty cool 5 stars
12/07/04 adam it was great, great wes anderson flick with some good action fans will not be dissapointed 5 stars
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  10-Dec-2004 (R)
  DVD: 10-May-2005



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