With a plan to exact revenge on a mythical shark that killed his partner, oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) rallies a crew that includes his estranged wife (Anjelica Huston), a journalist (Cate Blanchett), an eccentric German sailor (Willem Dafoe) and a man who may or may not be his son (Owen Wilson).
Did you see "Rushmore"? I did, and was entirely beguiled by its eccentric whimsy.
There was also something compelling about the way director Wes Anderson treated his characters. Those lingering, awkward shots of Bill Murray, for example, peeling away first impressions to expose the uncertainty of a mensch winging it. Robert D. Yeoman's wonderful cinematography and the superb, resonant soundtrack filled out Anderson and Owen Wilson's script, and unsuspecting audiences were surprised by a self-conscious but gloriously satisfying film filled with hubris, maladroit poetry and just a hint of banality."Royal Tenenbaums", the next excursion by Anderson & Co, was a little less intimate, because of the arch paternal posturing by Gene Hackman, and the ever-present risk of additional cast members allowing their cinematic history to seep into their roles.... I'm thinking Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow in particular. But, perhaps surprisingly, given these initial misgivings, it holds its own against "Rushmore".
Which is why my almost absolute indifference to "The Life Aquatic" is so bothersome. It ought to be a good film. A great film. But it's not. No matter how hard Anderson devotees try to convince you otherwise, don't let yourself be fooled: "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is a damp squid. Er, squib.
It's almost painful thinking back on it. I mean, were it truly awful it might at least have been fun to eviscerate it, but regrettably it was merely bland. On the face of it, it had all the ingredients for a killer feature. But clearly, something was missing.
Before we figure out what, exactly, let's look at what was added to Andersen's usual recipe.
Now, my best guess why there was no magic in "The Life Aquatic" was because Wilson wasn't involved in the scriptwriting this time around.
Yeah, Owen Wilson - scriptwriter. Who would have thought, right? I know I usually have him pigeon-holed as Jackie Chan or Ben Stiller's buddy film co-star, but from what I can make out, there's a whole layer of subtle and complex humour missing from the entire film, and I don't think it's far-fetched to ascribe this to Wilson's absence from the writing process.
Another problem is that the third act set piece - an underwater sequence involving the entire cast squeezed into a tiny submarine finally tracking down Zissou's quarry - the elusive Jaguar shark - does not come off as it was probably meant to, namely awe-inducing. I was expecting Henry Selick's stop-motion animation to be quite a bit more remarkable than it was. And the shark itself looked... low budget, as if it was envisioned as much more impressive than it turned out to be.
There's an tiny bit of ambiguity right at the end that vaguely suggests the events of the film could be seen in a different light if watched again... but it's not nearly suggestive enough for me to put myself through this beige piece of filmmaking again.
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