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The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
DVD disk
05.24.2005 By: Scott Weinberg
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou order
Wes Anderson

Bill Murray
Owen Wilson
Cate Blanchett


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An arrogant, snide, and strangely lovable oceanographer hits the high seas in order to track down and destroy the sea beast who ate his pal - but he must also contend with bitter rivals, estranged ex-wives, a son he never knew he had, and a boatload full of colorful goofballs.
Well, I'll be the very first to admit that the films of Wes Anderson are an "acquired taste," but the filmmaker had me hooked from his very first film (Bottle Rocket), and I enjoyed his follow-ups (Rushmore & The Royal Tenenbaums) even more. So yeah, I absolutely think that The Life Aquatic is a good movie -- and if you go in to the movie looking for something fairly bizarre and somewhat unique, I bet you'll think so to.

Though it's certainly a comedy, The Life Aquatic is not about "set-up punchline" material and broad physical schtick. It's about the characters, each of whom are endearingly created and impeccably portrayed. Murray is as glib, abrasive and ironically likeable as he's ever been, while movie-geek favorites like Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, and Willem Defoe deliver some superlative work.

If the "main plot" of The Life Aquatic focuses on Zissou's uncomfortable relationship with his long-lost son (Owen Wilson, quite excellent), then let's just say there are several rather screwy plot divergences that pop up to take us on different directions. But ultimately The Life Aquatic is a multi-character-study, in that the most satisftying thing about the flick is watching the different crew members bounce off of one another. It's a tough movie to describe and an even tougher movie to dislike, but it's pure Wes Anderson through and through. The kid's still 4-for-4 in my movie book, and I cannot wait to see what Mr. Anderson comes up with next.

The Life Aquatic is available from Criterion in your choice of a 1- or 2-disc set. But don't let that fool you into thinking the one-discer is a bare-bones affair. Far from it! Disc 1 is the same regardless of which volume you buy, so let's start right there.

Audio Commentary with writer/director Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach. One interesting quirk about this commentary track is that Anderson & Baumbach recorded it at the same diner where they wrote the movie! So you'll get to hear background chatter and the clank of knives and spoons as the filmmaking duo discuss their baby. Fans of the film will most certainly appreciate the way they break the movie down on a scene-specific basis, but don't listen in if you're expecting a raucous laugh riot. Aside from the restaurant setting, this is just a whole lot of good (if a bit dry) commentary track yakking. (But why does the name of Jacques Cousteau have to be bleeped out? Odd.)

"Starz on the Set" - What's this? A cable channel 'behind-the-scenes' featurette that's not entirely fluffly and recycled? Wow! Several actors and crew members contribute their thoughts and opinions on the project, and this EPK never once sinks into puff-piecery or outright marketing. (14:28)

Deleted Scenes - A collection of nine bits that were snipped from the film, which can be enjoyed individually or as part of a "play all" option. Every one of these deleted scenes is really quite brief, which indicates (to me, anyway) that Anderson's nothing if not efficient.

Trailer - The original theatrical trailer, which still stands up as an absolute treat in and of itself.

Easter Egg - A hilarious 5-minute outtake of Bill Murray jumping all over the place while proclaiming that his new sneakers are "Wow, really great!" Someone get that man some oxygen! (To access the egg, click up from "Starz on the Set.")

Toss in some great menu screens with that adorable Casio music and a swanky foldout booklet, and you're looking at one rock-solid DVD. But those who want even more of the Zissou experience will definitely want to pick up the 2-discer, because here's what it offers:

Photos - A lengthy series of behind-the-scenes snapshots.

Seu Jorge Performs David Bowie - If you've already seen The Life Aquatic, then you know one of the film's highlights is Seu Jorge and his Brazilian renditions of classic Bowie. And these aren't just clips from the final cut of the movie; no, you're getting ten full-length tunes here for a total of 40 funky minutes. What a great little addition to the DVD...

The Look Aquatic - Production designer Marc Friedberg details the rather difficult (yet entirely enjoyable) process of bringing The Life Aquatic to life. Particularly impressive is the elaborate boat set that need to be constructed for the movie. (5:27)

Aquatic Life - Visual Effects Supervisor Jeremy Dawson, stop-motion animation genius Henry Selick (director of The Nightmare Before Christmas!), and a handful of talented creature creators dish the scoop on The Life Aquatic's rather fanciful (and fictional) sea beasties. (7:52)

Designs - A collection of production artwork and silly pictures.

Creating a Scene - Be a fly on the wall behind the scenes of an early Aquatic sequence. Murray sits down to share a few thoughts on Wes Anderson's directorial style. (4:38)

Esteban - Poor Seymor Cassel has a little trouble acclimating to undersea scuba shooting, but he's always the pro. Fun stuff. (7:04)

Ned - A brief visit with Owen Wilson and the Aquatic character he creates. (2:51)

Jane - The lovely Cate Blanchett shares her thoughts on her character, the Life Aquatic experience, and the trials of acting while pregnant. (3:24)

Costumes - Producer Barry Mendel and actors Angelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Willem Defoe, Owen Wilson & Bud Cort talk about the film's decidedly "different" outfits ... and hats. (4:36)

Mark Mothersbaugh - An absolutely stellar 19-minute interview segment with movie composer (and original DEVO member!) Mark Mothersbaugh. Absolutely one of disc 2's highlights.

Monda Monda - Now here' something kinda bizarre. It looks like an Italian talk show from 1972, but Anderson and Baumbach are stymied by the language barrier. If it's a gag, I think it runs on a bit long. But hey, you might love it. (16:22)

Intern Video Journal - Once an intern for Wes Anderon, Matt Gubler got to play Intern #1 in The Life Aquatic and spent the entire shoot making a mini-doco of his very own. It's a fun little "home movie" sort of affair, with Gubler narrating along while cast & crew members either A) get their work done, or B) goof around in between work. You get a clear indication that this was a fun and laid-back shoot, although Matt's video love-fest ends just about when it should. (15:18)

This is an Adventure - I'm not exactly sure why it would take three directors to make a behind-the-scenes documentary, but that's what's going on here. Albert Maysles, Antonio Ferrera, and Matthew Prinzig combine to deliver a pretty damn insightful look behind The Life Aquatic. Fans of Bill Murray will most certainly enjoy this nearly hour-long adventure.

Expect the absurd, the bizarre, the sweet, and the occasionally surreal, and you'll probably have a darn good time with The Life Aquatic. It's not nearly a sitcom-style comedy film, but it is unique and it even gets better with repeat viewings. Needless to say, the Criterion Collection DVD is an absolute treasure chest of cinematic goodness.
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