Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Director Of The Month Film Review: Wes Anderson - The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

Rating: 6.5/10 - Good

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou does not quite reach the lofty standards set by Wes Anderson's previous works but it is nonetheless a fairly entertaining film. It has all the hallmarks of a Wes Anderson film such as offbeat characters, quirky music and, of course, Bill Murray.

Director: Wes Anderson. Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Producers: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin. Executive Producer: Rudd Simmons. Cinematographer: Robert Yeoman. Editor: David Moritz. Score: Mark Mothersbaugh. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures. Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Micahel Gambon, Seymour Cassel, Bud Cort and Seu Jorge. Running Time: 119 Minutes.

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a world famous documentary filmmaker and oceanographer, Ala Jacques Cousteau, whom most critics believe his best work is behind him (think Woody Allen meets Captain Haddock from the Tintin comics). The film opens at a festival screening of his latest documentary, Part 1, at the end of which he doesn't exactly get a standing ovation. The reason for naming it Part 1 is that the filming of the documentary had to be ended prematurely after Zissou's best friend Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel) is killed by a mysterious "Jaguar Shark". Despite the film being incomplete, the financiers, being the "capitalist sharks" that they are, insist on releasing the film in order to recoup some of their investment while they still can as they no longer have faith in Zissou as a competent documentarian. Zissou is obviously not impressed with their decision and vows to complete the film, i.e. make Part 2, to honour his friend's memory and so sets out on a quest with the rest of Team Zissou to find this so-called "Jaguar Shark" which no one else believes really exists.

Story-wise, the film falls short of expectations but technically, it is probably one of Anderson's best. The CGI and stop-motion animation combination used to bring the underwater plants and animals to life is beautifully made in luminous bright colours that are in stark contrast to the grey and soft blue palette that dominates the film. The sea creatures themselves aren't carbon copies of real marine life: they exhibit slight differences from what exists in nature but, this being a Wes Anderson film, never feel out of place.

For Zissou's ship, the Belafonte, Anderson and production designer Mark Freidberg used an old World War 2 ship for the exterior shots and then constructed a spectacular set for the interior shots that is a cut-away of the ship's interior which allows you to see every room and level of the ship as if you are watching a play at the theatre rather than a film. Apart from it being a sight to behold, Anderson uses it to create stunning montages and continuous long shots that reveal both the mundane and the thrilling sides of life aboard ship with Captain Zissou. It's about as immersive as any 3D film you'll ever experience which just goes to show that talented directors don't need expensive gimmicks to tell their stories.

The music is as quirky as ever and at times reminds me of the music in films by Paul Thomas Anderson (no relation). It's almost as if they are distant musical relatives and although their directing styles are very different I'd pay good money to see them collaborate on a film. Punch-Drunk Rushmore anyone?

Verdict: A brilliantly executed but somewhat shallow comedy adventure.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is available now on DVD.

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