‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’

Director: Wes Anderson
With: Steve Zissou, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson
Runtime: 118 min

What do you get when you cross Bill Murray with Wes Anderson and multiply it by a David Bowie soundtrack sung mostly in Portuguese? Answer: a fantastically original film.

Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, a documentary maker and oceanographer who embarks on a quest to hunt down the killer jaguar shark, which ate his best friend, Esteban. Together with his team of devotees, including his ‘possible’ son Ned (Owen Wilson), he scrambles to produce a documentary which can quash his critics who believe he has lost his talent as a film maker. They are joined by an overly English, pregnant journalist, played by a plummy Cate Blanchett.

Loosely based on real-life oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, it combines an unconventional plot with stellar performances by all the actors involved. The real star of the film, though, has to be Willem Dafoe, who plays Klaus Daimler, a stoical German engineer, (with a disturbingly accurate accent to match) competing with Ned for Zissou’s attention and praise. And who can blame him, considering the man can light a cigarette
off a hot air balloon?

The premise is brilliant, but whilst watching the film, you almost forget that the sole purpose of the story is to confront the jaguar shark, as you become connected with the characters emotionally. In fact, the plot is merely circumstantial as the real beauty of the film is in the subtle relationships. There’s the delicate love story between Wilson and Blanchett contrasted with the increasingly hostile relationship between Zissou and his estranged wife (Anjelica Huston), and the hilarious competition with his arch rival, Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum).

The Life Aquatic exhibits everything one could possibly want in a movie: comedy, drama, action, animation, pirates! The stop-motion animation, although under used, is extremely imaginative and makes the underwater sequences truly stunning. This is mostly thanks to the genius of Henry Selick who was responsible for the animation in The Nightmare Before Christmas. The part-documentary style also gives the film a texture not experienced in everyday film viewing and helps keep the story on track, as do the incidental acoustic renditions of David Bowie songs sung, in Portuguese.

The trove of incidental details and visual nuances is a delight. Everything from the brilliantly designed boat, with a sauna constructed by an engineer from the Chinese space programme, to the matching pastel blue Speedos and tracksuits, oozes real attention on Anderson’s part. This is typical Wes Anderson, on par with The Royal Tenenbaums but even more eccentric, if that’s possible.