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Blu-ray: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou | reviews, news & interviews

Blu-ray: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Blu-ray: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Wes Anderson's undervalued piscine romp returns

In search of the jaguar shark: Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray in 'The Life Aquatic'

Wes Anderson’s fourth feature followed on from The Royal Tenenbaums, still a near-perfect blend of whimsy, pathos and poetry. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is almost as ungainly as its title, the mismatched crew of Bill Murray’s ship acting as a surrogate dysfunctional family. Murray’s oceanographer Zissou is an affectionate parody of Jacques Cousteau: accused by his detractors of being washed up, he resolves to turn matters around: “We haven’t made a hit documentary in nine years. I’m going to set sail to find the shark that ate my friend.”

Enter a perfectly cast Owen Wilson as a starstruck fan who believes that Zissou is his father. He offers his inheritance to fund the filming: Team Zissou is reassembled and sets off on its Melvillian mission. Zissou is asked by a reporter what the scientific purpose of killing the shark would be. "Revenge!", he answers, without missing a beat.

Watch out, too, for the wild snow mongoose...

Viewed as an expensive flop after its release in 2004, The Life Aquatic’s eye-popping visuals and lavish production values seem better suited to home-viewing. The film resembles a glossy large-format picture book, every frame inviting repeated scrutiny. Mark Friedberg’s set designs are magnificent, most famously the cross-section of Zissou’s beloved ship (the archly named Belafonte), the camera panning across vertically and horizontally to show us its improbable contents. The artifice spills over into the various exotic sea creatures which have cameos, with blowfish, sugar crabs, and crayon ponyfish painstakingly realised by Henry Selick using stop-motion animation. Watch out, too, for the wild snow mongoose...

Blu-ray: The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouPlot-wise, there’s initially not a lot going on: Anderson and his regular co-writer Noah Baumbach seem set on presenting a sequence of whimsical vignettes. Only in the final act do the stakes rise. But this is a slow-burning charmer of a film, brilliantly cast. Murray is on lively form, unfazed at having to don a tight blue wetsuit or a pair of Team Zissou speedos. There’s a lovely turn from Jeff Goldblum as Zissou’s wealthy rival Hennessy, and Angelica Huston and Cate Blanchett offer good value as Zissou’s estranged wife and a plummy-voiced English journalist respectively. The minor roles are fun, too: Bud Cort as a Filippino-speaking "bond company stooge" steals several scenes. Anderson’s eclectic soundtrack is another joy: gorgeous obscurities from Scott Walker and The Zombies nestle alongside cheesy numbers from Antidopean loungemeister Sven Libaek. Seu Jorge’s acoustic Portuguese versions of Bowie songs are a delight.

Criterion’s newly restored Blu-ray looks and sounds sumptuous, and there’s a generous batch of extras. Anderson and Baumbach offer a nicely discursive commentary, and there’s a documentary chronicling the film’s production alongside interviews with cast and crew. We get a smattering of deleted scenes, none of them significant losses, plus a stills gallery.

Anderson’s eclectic soundtrack is another joy: gorgeous obscurities from Scott Walker and The Zombies nestle alongside cheesy numbers from Antidopean loungemeister Sven Libaek


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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