The Life Aquatic with Steve... (2004)
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Review Date: January 19, 2005
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach
Producers: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin
Bill Murray as Steve
Owen Wilson as Ned
Cate Blanchett as Jane
A famed filmmaker/deep-sea explorer named Steve Zissou and his oddball crew, are about to embark on yet another nautical journey, this time, to find a rare Jaguar Shark, which apparently chewed up and killed Zissou’s old-time friend. Along for the ride are a pregnant reporter and a young man who most believe to be Zissou’s son. What follows are the adventures of the crew on sea.
I understand that writer/director Wes Anderson’s “comedies” aren’t your run-of-the-mill comedic vehicles, with much of the humor humming along the “dry” variety with sarcasm, quips and subtle mutterances all meching together to create a distinctive world in which all of the characters speak to each other in a way that most movie characters do not. And while I’ve enjoyed all of his previous cinematic presentations, each of which had its unique blend of creative plotlines and oddball characters, the goal of actually “entertaining” the audience also seemed to be a big part of that melange. With this film, it seems as though the creative environment and characters have remained, but somehow, there is a loss on various other fronts, including any sort of connection to the characters, any sense of reality, any kind of emotional tug – which would be related to the fact that you don’t really care about any of the characters – and most importantly, a basic “entertainment value”, which can generally be found through laughter, of which I found none in this movie. That’s right, I sat there for close to two hours, watched a variety of actors who I respect and generally “get off on”, including Murray, Wilson, Dafoe and Goldblum, but really didn’t laugh once. I smiled once or twice, and told my brain that a certain line was “clever” or “cute”, but overall, I just watched, listened, enjoyed the sights – but not the sounds as much as Anderson’s previous efforts – and ultimately, just felt bored and uninterested in much of what was happening on screen.

I actually remember thinking, on a couple of occasions, about how I could just get up and walk out of the theater at certain points, and not really care about what happened for the rest of the movie—which is never a good sign for any movie, no matter how unique or “niche” it might be. All that said, I don’t want it to come off like I hated this film by any means, in fact, I enjoyed a number of things about it on the whole, just not the whole thing, I guess. For example, I loved both Dafoe and Goldblum’s characters quite a bit, but would have liked to have seen more of them, and less of the cavalry of others seemingly forced into the plotline. I also appreciated the continued directing efforts put forth by Anderson, who has a very unique way of framing his shots and editing his movies, which I really enjoy. Despite the film not succeeding entirely, you also have to credit it for continuing to showcase a unique storyline, which despite not reeling me in completely, did feature plenty of odd situations and adventures from the cast and crew. Unfortunately, a lot of stuff just didn’t work in the movie including a decision to include obviously-fake animated sea creatures into the real-life adventures of these people (just took me right out of it), a couple of action sequences which were obviously supposed to be over-the-top and unreal, but again, didn’t really work under the otherwise realistic environment set up by the film (so is it all a joke, is it real?) and Bill Murray’s lead character of Steve Zissou, who Murray continues to play in the same one-note fashion that he’s been riding in his previous 3-4 movies (how am I supposed to invest myself into a character who seemingly has no soul or emotion?). The whole father/son thing also didn’t click with me whatsoever.

An “emotional” scene nearing the end of the film was, I assume, supposed to mean something to the audience, but just left me yawning and wondering. Ultimately, what was the film’s purpose? To mean something? I don’t think so. To grab one emotionally? Not at all. To make one laugh? Maybe…but I guess it wasn’t funny to me. In the end, I really don’t know what to make of this movie, other than to say that it was definitely the least impressive addition to Anderson’s filmography so far, and that it might entertain those who are big fans of his only. You might still want to check it out on dvd one day, if only, to see how it rates versus his other, much better, movies.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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