The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
Criterion Collection
Cast: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Featurettes, Music Videos, Interviews, Deleted Scenes, Trailer and much much more

Wes Anderson has a different kind of humor. The director and writer of films such eccentric comedies as "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Rushmore" is back with his latest film, "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." Multi-faceted and intelligent it once again carries Anderson’s unique trademark humor and makes for an enjoyable ride.

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is an oceanographer and filmmaker – in a nod to the great Jacques Cousteau down to the red crew hats – whose partner was killed by an unknown species of shark in front of the eyes of Zissou. Zissou swears revenge and names the fish the "Jaguar Shark." Much to the amusement of his colleagues, Zissou scrapes together the last resources and mans an expedition. The mission, to find and kill the Jaguar Shark! Along the way his life is filled with personal problems, such as dealing with his estranged wife (Anjelica Huston), getting to know his new-found could-be grown-up son, falling in love with a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett), battling out feuds with his competitor (Jeff Goldblum) or simply being a good captain to his crewman (Willem Dafoe). There’s always something happening, and when there’s not, there are pirates…

To say Anderson’s films are different is an understatement. His films are very different. Very subtle and intelligent, the humor of his work is in the detail. He doesn’t dish out laughs in broad strokes but if you make the effort to think while your watching the movie, there is so much to appreciate. But of course there are moments of overt comedy as well and in this film they come aplenty.
Anderson rounded up many of his cast members from previous films. Most of them have been part of either "Rushmore" or "The Royal Tenenbaums" or both films. It is indicative in a sense. Anderson needs a certain talent in an actor, someone who understands and brings across his subtle humor and mimicry, as well as the intellectual side of the characters. Once found you just want to reuse them over and again, which he does. Willem Dafoe’s character is a riot, especially given the fact that Dafoe is playing it to the hilt, making it even more of a funny clash. Owen Wilson is playing his part understated, adding a lot of character to the humor he brings to the screen, turning this into a much subtler part than we’re used to seeing from him. And then, of course, Bill Murray is simply perfect as Zissou. Grumpy, funny, clever and impulsive, Murray once again brings out all the facets in his play without ever turning Zissou into a mockery. He is simply perfect.

Criterion is presenting a flawless <$PS,widescreen> transfer on this 2-discDVD that is devoid of any flaws or blemishes. An incredible amount of detail can be found in the picture, making for a glorious viewing. Colors are vibrant but never over-saturated, creating a world that is sometimes bleak, rich and vivid at others, and always pleasant. Solid black levels root the image firmly, giving it visual depth and rendering perfect shadows with just enough detail. No edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is without flaws.

"The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" comes with a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> and a <$DTS,DTS> audio track. Both of them are equally well produced and perfectly reproduce every nuance of the audio production. Surround usage is good and effective and the good frequency response makes it all the more enjoyable.
As a stylistic device, the film’s sound track contains a large number of David Bowie tunes from his Ziggy stardust era. The kicker here is that they are almost throughout in Portuguese this time around. Brazilian recording artist Seu Jorge, who plays one of the crew members in the movie, has a knack for these tunes and keeps singing them aboard on every possible occasion with his guitar in his hand. It is a humorous device that Anderson employs throughout the film, making for some great moments and for some nice memories.

Being a Criterion Collection release, the DVD set is packed with extras. A <$commentary,commentary track> featuring Wes Anderson and co=writer Noah Baumbach is included on the DVD, filled with exciting details, food for thought and anecdotes from the production. Anderson is very capable in communicating his intentions and he explains how he translates them to the screen.

"This is an Adventure" is a documentary the chronicles the production of the movie. It offers a lot of behind-the-scenes insight and is great fun to watch.
A series of featurettes is also included covering various aspects of the production and also give the cast members the chance to talk about their work. Especially "Starz On The Set" is an exciting look in that respect, as is composer Mark Mothersbaugh’ss featurette o nthe music in the film.

A highlight of the release are ten complete video performances of Seu Jorge’s Portuguese version of the David Bowie songs. Unbelievably cool, in my book.

Deleted Scenes are also included as well as trailers, photo galleries and a lot more.

"The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" is not the right film for people looking for instant gratification gross-out humor. This film is a bit more challenging, but it pays off big time nonetheless. I found that with every repeat viewing the film actually gets better as there are countless things you will notice that previously escaped you. Whether it’s a snappy little word in a line of dialogue, a prop or the cross references in certain scenes, it is all exceedingly well designed and put together. No question. If you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s previous work, you definitely want to check out "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou." And if you’re not familiar with his previous films, give this one a try. It’s a good start.