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The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Starring: Bill Murray, Angelica Huston, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe and Cate Blanchett

After huge indie success with Lost In Translation Bill Murray is back under the guidance of West Anderson in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. It’s another of those offbeat pictures that has the Anderson touch when it comes to attention to set design and wardrobe, among other items in the production. You can admire its stylishness, but the acting is deadpan, and storytelling is diminished when compared to his other three feature films, including The Royal Tenebaums.

Murray’s silvery hirsute Zissou is a successful oceanographer with many popular underwater documentaries to his credit. Lately, though, this unenthusiastic Jacques Cousteau has something on his mind as his films have tanked and producers aren’t lining up for him. He’s after a mysterious mythical “jaguar shark” who ate his best friend Esteban (Seymour Cassel) and once his finding is captured on film, the lethal predator will be blown up all in the name of science.

Rushmore has assembled another capable group of actors. From Tenebaums there’s Angelica Huston as Steve’s estranged, brainy wife Eleanor and Owen Wilson as Ned Plympton, an Air Kentucky co-pilot who’s “probably” his son. Noah Taylor is original score composer Vakldimir Wolodarsky, Wilem Dafoe is the droll German ship engineer Klaus, and also with four unpaid interns is pregnant reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson, a somewhat bland Cate Blanchett (The Aviator).

The camera nicely patrols around the Belafonte, the WWII warship which is used by Team Zissou. Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) provides whimsical stop-motion animation for some weirdly colorful sea creatures. There are some Portugese David Bowie cover songs on the soundtrack by one of Steve’s crew (Seu Jorge) that seem to fit in with a subplot with Filipino pirates and the cute red knit hats and powder blue uniforms worn by all.

Unfortunately, for many images that seem original the story which becomes more like Tenebaums than a Moby Dick sage. Anderson keeps things mostly out at sea for the viewer, from the uneasy relationship of Steve and Ned which includes their affections for the alluring, snoopy Jane, an amusing Jeff Goldblum as Zissou’s mercenary rival, and the climatic confrontation with the jaguar shark. Maybe this artistic, eccentric soulful tribute to 70's nature films has a freewheeling way of catching one off guard, but the dry, mostly understated work above the surface is more dismissive than disarmingly aqua fresh.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

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