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:: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou has the same slowed pace and quirky humour that director Wes Anderson delivered in The Royal Tenenbaums. Like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic is a story about a family who have lost confidence in a father figure and this man’s fight to regain their respect.

Bill Murray plays adventurer and natural history buff Steve Zissou whose family is the crew on his expedition ship The Belefonte. They include his closest friends, his wife (Angelica Huston), a pregnant journalist (Cate Blanchett), an assortment of terrified interns and the man who might be his illegitimate son, Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson).

As we join the Belefonte, Zissou is about to set off on a controversial new quest, which is threatening his credibility, his sponsorship and his marriage. Rather than exploring the natural wonders of the deep, he sets out to destroy, possibly with dynamite, a mythical ‘jaguar shark’ that ate his friend Esteban on a previous expedition. His unorthodox methods land them in all sorts of trouble, but Zissou’s loyalty to the memory of his friend will never let him turn back.

The film has the sensibilities of a 1960’s comic book or TV show. A cut-away cross-section of the ship, a fan club complete with official badges, and uniform red beanies for the crew, all have a quaint innocence about them. Steve has this too, a naive wonder and dedication to nature and his extended family. Despite the bizarre plot, The Life Aquatic is hugely enjoyable, leaving an impression of honesty in regards to human emotion.

Bill Murray is fantastic in one of his most difficult roles. He upholds the comedic tone to the film but also embraces the full tragedy of this character, Steve Zissou. To his credit, Murray even learned to dive for the film, though with the overall feel of the production you’d be forgiven for thinking it was all done on blue-screen. Cate Blanchett, who really was pregnant during filming, and Owen Wilson also shine, with great chemistry between the two.

The filmmakers chose stop-motion animation to create the aquatic life for the film. Maybe it’s the lure of ‘the good old days’, but this technique seems to give the creatures more substance than the purely computer generated characters we’ve seen of late. These are bright, fabulous creatures, as amazing as the real ones must have looked to early explorers, seeing them for the first time.

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is another classic from Wes Anderson that will be adored by some and a complete mystery to others. It is well worth discovering.