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Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Anjelica Houston, Willem Dafoe

I’m going to go on an overnight drunk and in 10 days, I’m going to set out to find the shark that ate my friend and destroy it”
Bill Murray as Steve Zissou

Wes Anderson makes the kind of films that either you love or despise. Many find his work quirky and brilliant, while others find his films pretentious and overwrought. I stake my claim firmly in the Wes Anderson enthusiast faction.  Criterion recently released the film on DVD.

The Movie

Steve Zissou, portrayed by Bill Murray, is at a crossroads in his life. While his career as an oceanographer is going fairly well, the documentary films that chronicle his adventures are not doing well with audiences. His wife, played by Anjelica Huston, is on the verge of leaving him. His best friend was recently devoured by a rare species of shark while filming his most recent documentary. And just to add to the fun, a reporter has been dispatched to nose around his ship and to ask if his career is over.

Enter into the picture Ned Plimpton, played by Owen Wilson. Ned presents himself to Steve and says that he may be his son. Steve admits that he knew Ned’s mother years ago. He also admits that he had heard about his existence but didn’t know what to do about the situation. Ned informs him that his mother has recently passed away from cancer and that he would like to forge a relationship with him. Steve feels an immediate connection with Ned and immediately offers him the opportunity to join his motley group on their next adventure.

Steve Zissou has an outrageous research trip/adventure planned for his next documentary film. The sole purpose of this hastily planned excursion is to find the shark that killed his friend and destroy it. Much of Steve’s crew is skeptical about this mission but follow anyway, either out of loyalty or just plain curiosity. Sort of like a drunken Ahab from Moby Dick searching for his white whale. But, in this case it’s a jaguar shark.

I won’t reveal the outcome of this mission in this review. You must experience it for yourself.  It’s truly one of a kind.

The lizards and underwater creatures that were animated by Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach) are absolutely out of this world. The creatures were intentionally created to be surreal and to not resemble anything that has ever actually existed. The overall visual style of this film is completely unique and is spectacular in every frame.

While there are a number of great performances, most notably Owen Wilson and Willem Dafoe, this film belongs to Bill Murray. His performance as Steve Zissou is one of the best I have seen this year. He brings just the right amount of pathos and deadpan to his portrayal of a once popular oceanographer at the end of his career. He also brings a nice amount of sensitivity to his portrayal of a man who has chosen his career over being a father to his estranged son and a decent husband to his wife.

Another standout performance is that of Seu Jorge as Pele Dos Santos. Pele is a singer/guitar player that performs a lot of the music that Zissou uses as a soundtrack in his films. He also uses his talent to entertain the crew on their long journeys at sea.  Jorge has a great voice and performs a lot of gems from the David Bowie catalog during the course of the film. Did I mention that he performs these songs in Portuguese? I enjoyed every moment Jorge was on screen.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou isn’t Wes Anderson’s most perfect film. There are a few moments when the momentum of the film seemed to drag a bit. But, when this movie is firing on all pistons, it simply doesn’t get any better.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is an underwater gem of a film and an extraordinary cinematic experience. It shouldn’t be missed.


The Video

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is presented in widescreen. The transfer is pristine and the colors are eye popping. I did not notice any instances of grain or artifacts. In terms of presentation, it doesn’t get better than this.


The Audio

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The mix is great and the dialogue is well balanced, clear and mixed well with the soundtrack.


The Packaging and Bonus Features

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a 2 disc release with the first disc presented on a hinge with the second disc mounted on the back of the amaray case. The cover artwork is suitable understated and slightly bizarre and was drawn by Wes Anderson’s brother, Eric. The cardboard slipcover is roughly the original poster for the film

Criterion Collection never fails to impress with their releases and this release is no exception. There is a virtual treasure chest of bonus features to explore.

The audio commentary by Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach is interesting albeit difficult to understand at times. The two decided to record the commentary in the restaurant where they met to write the screenplay. The information they relay to fans of the film is invaluable but sometimes hard to hear with the noise of customers and the restaurant.

This is an Adventure is a documentary about the production of the film and was lensed by legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles and comes in at over 50 minute running time. It is an excellent making of documentary and shows all aspects of making this unusual film. Bill Murray is shown having a great time being mischievous and generally keeps a smile on every ones face, both actor and film crew. The film is done in typical Maysles style, very “cinema-verite” and without narration, which truly gives the viewer the feeling of being a “fly on the wall”.

The Look Aquatic details the design of the ship and features informative interviews with production designer Mark Friedburg . Creating a Scene is a detailed look at the planning and execution of the movie’s opening scenes.

Aquatic Life is a look at the amazing sea life created for the film by legendary stop motion animator Henry Selick. Selick discusses the tricks that it took to integrate the creatures into the fabric of the film and is fascinating.

Ned Plimpton is a featurette focusing on Owen Wilson’s performance of the character Ned. Owen Wilson is expectedly funny and subversive and the featurette is enjoyable.

Starz on the Set contains interviews with cast and crew. It definitely has the feel of a promotional piece but has some funny behind the scene moments with the cast of the film.

Hydronicus Inverticus details some of the bizarre sea life creatures that were created for the film and either not used in the final cut of the film or only used in the original trailer for the film.

The Intern Journal is a short film made by Matthew Gray Gubler that worked on the film. His narration is a bit overdone and Mr. Gubler finds himself pretty clever, but it is a nice addition to the DVD and contains yet some more hilarious behind the scenes footage.

Costumes details Milena Canonero’s wonderful costumes for the film and shows her executing Anderson’s wild overall look for the film.

Esteban Du Plantier shows Seymour Cassel preparing for his part in the film. Cassel is a charismatic actor and shows his interesting preparation methods and how he ultimately executes his part.

Mondo Monda is probably the weakest of all the bonus features offered in my opinion.  It is an interview with Baumbach and Anderson for Italian television. It seems too long and isn’t nearly as clever as the host Antonio seems to find it.

Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of the band Devo, is a look at the contribution he made to the score of the film. He discusses the unusual creation of the film’s main theme.

For those that enjoyed the performances ( I surely did) of David Bowie songs by Brazilian recording artist Seu Jorge that were featured in the film will adore with 40 minute feature entitled Seu Jorge performs songs by David Bowie that has the full versions of 10 songs Jorge performed for the film. My favorites are Starman and Life on Mars.

What more can I say, The Life Aquatic by Steve Zissou is an amazing film that has received an amazing DVD release that it deserves from Criterion.

On a side note, there is also a single disc release on DVD from Touchstone Home Entertainment. But if you are a dedicated The Life Aquatic and Wes Anderson fan like myself, only the Criterion Edition will do.


Overall (Not An Average) 10/10

The Movie 8.5/10
The Video 10/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 10/10
Overall (Not An Average) 10/10