Strange but splendid film
In the same way that most Americans prefer chicken over sushi, most will prefer swimming through some blockbuster Hollywood hit over “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”Which is too bad, because they’ll be missing out.Wes Anderson’s “Life Aquatic,” featuring such big names as Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum, does not have a big mass-market appeal, but it’s a damn good film, albeit … strange.
Murray does a superb job playing Zissou, a famed oceanographer whose documentary series have earned him a tight-knit base of followers who religiously sport Zissou circle rings, red hats and Speedos.Every time a potential new fan comes into the picture, Zissou orders his unpaid interns to mail him a Speedo. After Zissou’s partner, Esteban, is killed, presumably by a rare Jaguar shark, the second part of Zissou’s latest documentary involves him taking his riffraff team of divers/film crew out into unprotected waters to find the creature and avenge his friend’s death. Of course, since the animal is an endangered species, he is forbidden to kill it.After critics and audiences respond indifferently to the first part of Zissou’s newest documentary, which reveals his friend’s untimely death, it becomes evident that Zissou and his fishcapades might be washed up.
Of course, there are some people who still believe in him. And Zissou is determined to blow the critics out of the water with Part Two, and thus rekindle his reputation. Long-time Zissou fan and journalist Jane Winslett (Blanchett) is allowed to accompany the crew on the condition that her story makes the cover of her magazine. Ned Plimpton (Wilson), who is surmised to be Zissou’s estranged son, gives up his career as a Kentucky Air pilot to join his supposed father as the newest Team Zissou crew member, even though Zissou doesn’t immediately acquiesce to being called dad.Anyone familiar with Anderson’s films (“The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” etc.) will recognize the obtuse timing with soundtrack numbers, most of which, in “Life Aquatic,” consist of old David Bowie (how could any film with “Ziggy Stardust” be anything but worthy?). Pelé dos Santos (Seu Jorge), the Zissou team “safety specialist,” constantly provides the Belafonte (Zissou’s boat) with melody, continuously cranking out Bowie classics in French on his acoustic guitar. Bizarre, but oddly poignant.Anderson also uses subtle, yet abrupt snippets of dialogue and profile zooms. It’s unmistakable to those who’ve seen it.
The occasional stop-motion animation in “Life Aquatic,” like Zissou’s surprisingly tender affinity with all animals, was amusing. Even the dark, bloody, gun-fire moments, while not reaching the same level of gore as Quentin Tarantino’s black comedy violence, had the full audience at Crossroads Cinema in Vail Village chuckling. Zissou, while brusque and demanding, also has his soft spots. He finally displays genuine concern that relations with his wife (Huston) are crumbling, he manages to curb his rage every time it flares – which is often – and he even shows compassion towards his “nemesis” (Goldblum). Every character has his or her own odd, yet not-so-obvious personality quirks. Who knows how Anderson came up with this film. Surely more than one audience member will leave the theater puzzled. However, I think I’ll be making a return visit to put some of the pieces together. It might require some chopsticks, but this one’s worth a try for sure.Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.Vail Colorado