The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) Review

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) Director: Wes Anderson

“And what is the scientific purpose of killing it?”


Quirky but occasionally fun, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is not my favorite of Wes Anderson’s films but it is an amusing little adventure. It is about an aging undersea documentarian in the shadow of Jacque Cousteau named Steve Zissou (Bill Murray). Aboard his ship “The Belafonte” we find a variety of odd characters: the salty European seadog Klaus “Klausy” (Willem Dafoe), producer Oseary Drakoulias (Michael Gambon) and other eccentric people like a musician who seems to exclusively play ’70s and ’80s David Bowie hits in Portuguese on his acoustic guitar, a perpetually topless woman, and Steve’s sometimes ex/current wife Eleanor Zissou (Anjelica Huston) whose wealthy parents seem to have funded The Belafonte projects. Along the way he meets a young Kentuckian who may, in fact, be his son: Ned Plimpton who is later renamed Kingsley Zissou (Owen Wilson); and also a pregnant reporter who intends to chronicle the latest voyage of the Belafonte (Cate Blanchett).

They venture out on a variety of little adventures hoping to capture every moment on film in order to revive Steve Zissou’s career in a new documentary –such as being attacked and nearly killed by pirates in international waters, or invading an enemy lair and rescuing Steve’s chief nemesis, Alistair (Jeff Goldblum)– but the overarching goal of the Belafonte’s mission is to discover and destroy a massive electric jaguar shark that previously killed Steve’s good friend on a past voyage. When they finally discover the shark in a somewhat underwhelming conclusion featuring some pretty poor special effects from the ship’s submarine, Steve actually decides not to kill it. In the end, his next documentary is presented amidst wide critical acclaim and dedicated to Ned who sadly died along the way. His crew then suits up for the next adventure.

Despite being somewhat critically panned when it was released, I have to say I enjoyed The Life Aquatic a little more this time around, but it is still greatly overshadowed by others in the Wes Anderson canon. I just find the Wes Anderson aesthetic for which he has become renowneed to be delightful and fun. There are lots of little nuggets and allusions in the film to all manner of literature: Moby Dick, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Great Gatsby, and so on.

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