The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Wes Anderson is a storyteller. His movies are conscious of that, and framing devices signal this; in The Life Aquatic, documentary style headings denote chapters. This is particularly relevant because, as in Rushmore, there's a story within a story here: The Life Aquatic is also the title of the new movie by acclaimed documentary maker Steve Zissou (Bill Murray).

Sadly, Zissou's heyday is over: his last few movies have been flops, his wife is leaving him, and during his last expedition, his best friend was eaten by a shark. Not just any shark, either -- this was a rare and potentially endangered shark, provisionally named the "jaguar shark" by Zissou. His mission now is to track down and kill the shark, for the scientific purpose of revenge.

It's not going to be easy, though. Zissou's once state-of-the-art technology is now aging and decrepit, and his failed movies haven't provided any money to replace them. His wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) refuses to come along and abandons Zissou to go stay with his arch-rival, part-gay rich boy Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum) -- because, as we know, Bill Murray can't keep a woman in any movie. The usual crew of the Belafonte are accompanied this time by pregnant reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett), bond company stooge Bill Ubell (Bud Cort), and a young Kentuckian airline pilot who may or may not be Zissou's long lost son (Owen Wilson) -- as well as seven young unpaid interns working for extra school credit.

Zissou's stubbornness drives his inexperienced crew into disaster after disaster: crucially, whilst charting a course through unprotected waters, they are beset by Filipino pirates, an incident which culminates in a spectacular showdown between Zissou and the pirates. One rescue later, and half the crew abandon ship; Zissou's attraction to Jane is thwarted by her budding romance with Ned -- now renamed "Kingsley Zissou" -- and the jaguar shark is all but forgotten in the tangle of new emotions and attachments forming within the crew.

The movie is, like other Anderson movies, very character driven, though The Life Aquatic is less introspective and more plot-centred than his earlier movies. All the sets are beautiful, creating a perfect and very full world for the characters to inhabit. The standout shot is the cut-away tour of the ship as Ned and Zissou wander around the Belafonte, threatening almost to break the fourth wall as they do so. The stop-motion animation fish are another notable feature of the movie; in an age where even The Magic Roundabout has gone CGI, the stop-motion fish are endearingly retro, and after all, who doesn't prefer special effects that're actually real as opposed to computer wizardry?

Anderson's quirky humour is still firmly in place, with spot-on dialogue; there are even a couple of genuinely touching, tear-jerking scenes in the movie. The music is another key element to setting the mood: much of the soundtrack is within the movie itself, as crewman Pele plays Portugese translations of classic Bowie tracks on his acoustic guitar.

The only thing I didn't love about this movie is the fact that I'll never be able to experience it for the first time ever again.

IMDB link

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