Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005

Despite all the continents being discovered and almost all territories being mapped, 20th Century had its share of great explorers. One of the best known was Jacques Cousteau (1910 - 1997), French naval officer whose enthusiasm for undersea exploration was matched by his filmmaking talent. He made great number of undersea documentaries and became one of the greatest scientific icons of 20th Century. Many artists paid him homage, including John Denver in one of his songs. The most spectacular homage so far is THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU, 2004 comedy directed by Wes Anderson.

The protagonist of the film is Steve Zissou (played by Bill Murray), Cousteau-like undersea explorer and documentary filmmaker who became famous by series of films depicting adventures of his research ship "Belafonte". However, the last expedition turned into disaster when his trusted assistant Esteban (played by Seymour Cassell) apparently got devoured by mythical Jaguar shark. Zissou spent years trying to get funding for new expedition, determined to find the monster and avenge his friend's death. New opportunity arises with the arrival of Ned (played by Owen Wilson), young airline pilot who claims to be his son. Zissou brings him on the ship together with Jane Winslett-Richardson (played by Cate Blanchett), pregnant British reporter who would chronicle the expedition.

Wes Anderson built his reputation on movies made in distinct style and populated by unusual characters. THE LIFE AQUATIC will maintain such reputation. Anderson made the film almost completely in long static shots that allow audience to enjoy good cinematography and impressive production and costume design. One of the most impressive shots gives cross section of Zisssou's ship. The acting in the film is great, especially in the case of Bill Murray who have collaborated with Anderson in RUSHMORE. Anderson also shows what creativity unburdened by Hollywood conventions can do - film owes much of its attraction and surreal atmosphere to stop motion animation of exotic sea creatures or use of Brazilian actor and singer Seu Jorge to cover David Bowie's songs in Portuguese.

THE LIFE AQUATIC is a film very different from what Hollywood accustomed audience to. Yet, those who aren't satisfied with films being merely unusual will find some flaws in it. The main problem is lack of humour, which could be devastating for a film that is supposed to be comedy. There are some hilarious scenes, but they occur relatively rarely, at inopportune moments. The pacing of the film is very slow, often drowned by dramatic scenes that don't make much of an impact and that includes melodramatic and very predictable ending. Some characters, like Zissou's wife, played by Anjelica Huston, are tragically underused while others, like Zissou's archrival played by Jeff Goldblum, could have been left on cutting room floor. It is sad to see such magnificent display of talents not weaved into coherent story, but this flaw shouldn't discourage anyone from watching THE LIFE AQUATIC.

RATING: 6/10 (++)


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