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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 Jay Seaver

"Often as strange and wonderful as sea life itself."
4 stars

The Life Aquatic flaunts its artifice. Even as it offers up rounded, three-dimensional characters, it does so in such a way that you can't necessarily believe in their world. A long shot will show the whole of Zissou's ship, the "Belafonte", as a cross-section, and the sea creatures are just as obviously artificial as CGI, but are also readily identifiable as the work of a specific artist. It's like writer-director Wes Anderson is challenging you to feel for his characters, even though he will continuously remind you that they are nothing more than parts played by actors in an occasionally surreal movie.

But, of course, that's part of the point. Bill Murray plays Zissou, a Jacques Cousteau-style nature documentarian with a carefully built reputation. Not just a reputation, but a persona that has been so carefully constructed over the past three decades that it's almost impossible to tell where what is staged ends and what is real begins where he is concerned. It's difficult to see what his particular talents are - he's not much of a marine biologist, and his filmmaking isn't so hot. A tour of the Belafonte reveals just how far he's drifted from any scientific ambitions he may once have had (especially a funny contrast of the amounts of care lavished the ship's sauna and lab space). When Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) enters his life, he tries to control this man who may be his son - not maliciously, but in accordance with the dictates of his profession. He's trying to make something as out of his control as the natural world give him a specific shot.

It may make you wonder, as an audience member, what the story behind certain scenes are. Pirates attack the Belafonte in one sequence, and the way they are fought off seems so improbable that one can't help but think that it may be a set-up. But there's nothing except the improbability to suggest that it's not real. Heck, the set-up, with Zissou's dive partner (Seymour Cassel) being eaten by what Zissou describes as a "jaguar shark" and Zissou calmly vowing revenge certainly could be a hoax. You just can't tell, and this seems to weigh on Zissou. He senses that his life has become a parody of itself, but what's a man to do in that situation? How does he tell his life to stop being absurd?

Bill Murray owns this movie. It's probably the best performance by an actor this year, and not just because Murray communicates all that angst, sadness, and strangeness without much oration. That would be enough, but Murray is also funny. He dresses up in silly costumes, delivers his lines with deadpan perfection, and throws himself into the action sequences with manic abandon. It's astounding, really - after Touchstone spiked Murray's Oscar chances with the bizarre release pattern for Rushmore, I figured that was it, his big chance to get an award while still being true to his comic roots. Then came Lost In Translation, and I thought, that's the culmination of his career, right there. Well, either his career just culminated again, or he's established an extraordinary position for himself in the ranks of comic actors. It may be time to just expect brilliance.

Anderson assembles a nifty cast around his star. Jeff Goldblum, for instance, adds a layer of malevolence to his standard dorky scientist persona (which, come to think of it, worked for him in Igby Goes Down, too). Anjelica Huston, as his wife and the reputed brains of his operation, is a formidable but human aristocrat. Willem Dafoe is almost disturbing in how his character worships Zissou. Cate Blanchett's reporter and Owen Wilson's pilot are long-time fans of Zissou, too, but have their own strength. Michael Gambon and Bud Cort have highly amusing roles as the financers of Zissou's new film. And Seu Jorge (Knockout Ned from City of God) sings David Bowie in Portugese to set the scene for the strange.

Worth special mention are the animated sequences created by Henry Selick. Selick's stop-motion creations are uniquely his own, immediately recognizable as the product of the man who directed The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. His sea creatures have sharp, angular designs, and move in unexpected directions. They look like nothing of this earth, but somehow inspire a sense of wonder anyway. It's notable that these fantastic creatures bring out what's real and human is Zissou; somewhere underneath his own artifice and need for nature to follow a script, he still loves them, finding delight in a garishly-colored seahorse he's presented at an otherwise dreadful party.

Even in our world, sea life can be stranger than many people are capable of imagining; what Anderson and Selick create is often just on the same level as what you can see in an IMAX underwater doc. So it makes sense that just as aquatic life is strange but amazing, so is The Life Aquatic. As with the types of films real-life Steve Zissous make, it'll leave you thinking that it was a little stranger than you expected, but that it stretched the imagination and mind in a good way.

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originally posted: 01/01/05 16:54:40
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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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