Sunlight streams through the studio windows. Mad Mike, DJ TV, and Foxx Jackson have assumed their respective positions around the laminate-topped table. The computer monitor flashes and Mad Mike begins typing furiously, his motives unknown. DJ TV has brought a number of candles in and is arranging them about the table. Foxx Jackson seems to have struck up a conversation with his headset. This is another day in The Screening Room, and today they will delve into the depths of Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.”
“The Life Aquatic” tells the tale of a washed-up marine-biologist/explorer/documentary-maker (Bill Murray) on one final quest for glory. Throughout this journey he meets his supposed long-lost son (Owen Wilson), develops a crush on a pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett), battles a band of pirates, reunites with his estranged wife (Anjelica Huston), and even does some soul searching. He is aided by a misfit crew consisting of a David Bowie loving safety expert (Seu Jorge), a squad of interns, and a jealous German first mate (Willem Dafoe).
Foxx Jackson: Wes Anderson has become known for his quirky yet emotionally charged films, winning four Academy Awards and a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture with “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” However, Life Aquatic was released a decade prior to this crowning masterpiece. Anderson directed three films before to Life Aquatic and had already become known for unique style, yet was still mastering the method that would eventually make him great. “The Life Aquatic” is great starting point for someone looking to get into Anderson’s films, it has moments that are both tragic and yet bizarrely humorous and still others scenes that seem to stumble over their own weirdness. Essentially, we are witnessing a master growing in to his own unique flavor of film. Aquatic looks absolutely amazing, its scenes are vibrant and bold, flamboyant even in some cases. Using puppets and stop-motion CGI for all the aquatic wildlife (with the exception of two albino dolphins) creates a sense of child-like wonder and adventure.
As for casting, the part of Steve Zissou was written specifically for Bill Murray and he slips into the role almost seamlessly. While the aesthetic of the film is bright and a joy to behold, Murray is an emotional counter weight. He is depressing and pessimistic, even to the point of being boring at times. Cate Blanchett brings a delightful charm to Aquatic with a smart and sassy performance that makes it easy to see why several characters develop feelings for her. Unfortunately there is a weak link on this all-star cast, Owen Wilson. Wilson plays an airline pilot from Kentucky who may be Zissou’s long-lost son. Sadly, Wilson comes across as uninteresting and little dopey. Perhaps this was the intent, but out of all the characters his personality is the least defined, unaided by the fact that he seems incapable of maintaining a Southern drawl between scenes. A final note on acting, Willem Dafoe’s German accent is absolutely brilliant and is, in the lowly opinion of this college radio film critic, the high point of all acting in this movie.
I would have to give this one a soft “Buy.” I certainly wouldn’t watch it weekly, or even monthly, but it has the potential to be a lovely rainy day film you can’t help but smile at.
Mad Mike: Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” was my first introduction to the colorful, vibrant, and quirky imagination of Wes Anderson. I was immediately captivated by the flamboyant use of color, unique cinematography and charming characters. So began my appreciation of Wes Anderson and his work. So when Netflix added “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” I was more than excited to watch it. My impressions: “The Life Aquatic” is different, yet still has some Anderson moments that shine through to a heartwarming conclusion.
The first fifteen minutes of “The Life Aquatic” present us with Anderson’s charm of cinematography and unique witty humor. This charm doesn’t last long as the film progresses into it’s weakest point, the second act. The second act almost feels like a slog with a few Anderson moments. Moreover, it feels like it was directed by someone besides Anderson. However, pushing through the second act rewards the viewer and redeems the film. The last 45 minutes of “The Life Aquatic” brings full force Anderson’s charm as a director. Fun violence, quirky characters, witty (almost deadpan) humor, and emotions compensate the viewer for the uneventful second act.
I’m Mad Mike of the Screening Room and I’m giving “The Life Aqautic” a “Watch it.”
DJ TV: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” definitely has the setup for an interesting movie. It has all the ingredients to success. There’s adventure, style, and an all-star cast. Unfortunately, what Wes Anderson cooks up turns out boring and dull.
Staying engaged with this film was a real problem for me. The second act is especially dull. It’s such a shame because the setup was pretty great. It had all the tellings of a great, emotional, adventure movie. But as soon as we set off on our quest, the film grinds to a halt and I start to have a really hard time caring. There’s only a few characters I really like (two of which are dolphins) and nothing really gets accomplished. I have to put the blame on the lead actor, Bill Murray. He delivers a really boring performance and doesn’t seem to have much enthusiasm for the part. I understand that this could very well be the point of the character. There are themes about how our heroes aren’t always what they seem and how they could very well be washed-up shadows of themselves. However, I have to believe that there is a better, more exciting way to portray that. If your viewers aren’t engaged, then what’s the point?
I have to give the movie props on style. It’s very much a Wes Anderson film. There’s some neat puppetry and the camera work is phenomenal. I can see how other movies in his filmography perfected the formula he went for in this one. If there’s one thing Wes Anderson is good at, it’s how to make a colorful and unique set.
Unfortunately for The Life Aquatic, the good does not outweigh the bad. No matter how good a film looks, if the characters are bland and you can’t keep the audience engaged, it’s not done it’s job. I can appreciate what this movie has in terms of visuals, but I’d much rather see one of Wes Anderson’s later films where he finally perfected his style. I have to give this movie a pass.
The Screening Room uses a rating system of:
“The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” is Screening Room certified as Watch It, with sweet hint of buy in the foretaste and tad of bitterness pass in the aftertaste.
For Tiger Media Network, I’m Chris Jacobs.