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Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The
Release Date(s)2004 (May 27, 2014)
Studio(s)Touchstone Home Entertainment (Criterion - Spine #300)
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is perhaps Wes Anderson’s most-polarizing film to date. After earning nearly universal praise for his previous films Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, he took a slightly different direction with his next film, making it a bit more whimsical in nature, but still containing those real human elements that we all share.
The most important aspect of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is Bill Murray. Without his portrayal of the character, this film wouldn’t be nearly as memorable as it is. He’s the lynchpin for the rest of the cast’s performances in the film, in my opinion. His deadpan but real sensibility about a man past his prime who’s looking for a reason to still be relevant to not just his peers but also his family and friends keeps the movie’s story in tow, and prevents it from going too far over the whimsical edge. The rest of the cast is pretty terrific, as one should expect, including Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson, Jeff Goldblum, and the amazing Cate Blanchett, who I just love in everything. But again, they might not be as compelling without Bill Murray.
The story itself is pretty whimsical at times, but very down-to-earth as well. Wes Anderson chose to realize imaginary sea creatures using stop-motion animation, which some people felt took away from the reality of the situation at hand a bit too much (and also prefigured his interest in stop-motion with Fantastic Mr. Fox). Personally, I found it to be deliberate and necessary. It’s very easy to get caught up in the drama of the film, but the whimsy helps to soften the blow. It’s almost like a bedtime story that’s been made into a film, in a lot of ways. It has that sort of feel to it to me. Even though there’s a heartfelt story about an older man meeting his son for the first time and going through marital problems with his wife, I still feel like I’m reading the story out of a fairy tale book, and that’s just wonderful.
I think it’s obvious by now that I am not a hater of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and I can’t understand why anyone would hate it in the first place. I love everything about the film, and while I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s my favorite Wes Anderson film, I’d definitely consider it to be in my top five. Trying to come up with a favorite Wes Anderson film for me is equivalent to picking your favorite offspring. It’s impossible because you love them all, and you love them all for different reasons, as well. The film is just another pearl in the succession on the necklace, and it’s always wonderful to revisit it.
And with Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film (which has been approved by Wes Anderson himself), there’s never a better time than now. The presentation of the film is virtually perfect, with no discernible imperfections at all. It’s amazingly clear with an immense amount of image detail, colors are quite robust, black levels are very deep, and both contrast and brightness are nearly perfect. I didn’t notice any signs of compression artifacting or any pointless enhancements either. It’s superlative, in other words. The same goes for the film’s soundtrack, which is a single English 5.1 DTS-HD track. Dynamic range and clarity are pretty amazing, as are the acoustics and ambience. Dialogue is always clean, clear and well-prioritized, and both the sound effects and score have lots of life to them. The LFE also plays its part well. You couldn’t really ask for a better presentation of the film at all. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
The supplemental material is vast and also well-worth a look. There’s an audio commentary with director Wes Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach; the This is an Adventure documentary about the making of the film; a set of nine deleted scenes; a clip from Mondo Monda, an Italian talk show with Anderson and Baumbach as the guests; a set of Cast and Crew Interviews (Jane, Ned, Costumes, Aquatic Life, The Look Aquatic, Creating a Scene, and Esteban); an interview with composer Mark Mothersbaugh; a set of song selections wherein Seu Jorge Performs David Bowie (“Starman,” “Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Changes,” “Rebel Rebel,” “Lady Stardust,” “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” “Five Years,” “Life on Mars?,” “Suffragette City,” and “Quicksand”); an Intern Video Journal by Matthew Gray Gubler; a gallery of photos; a gallery of designs; a making-of featurette; the film’s original theatrical trailer; and finally, a fold-out insert containing a conversation between Wes Anderson and illustrator Eric Chase Anderson.
Blu-ray releases of Wes Anderson’s work are always pretty stellar, whether they’re on Criterion’s label or not, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is no exception. It’s an amazing film with an amazing visual and aural presentation with an amazing set of extras to go along with it. In fact, I love it, and I plan on watching it over and over again, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. Most highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons