This Is The Dawning Of The Age Of Aquatic
Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is an underwater documentary filmmaker who has spent countless years researching aquatic wildlife. On a new research expedition fueled by vengeance, his newly discovered son, Ned (Owen Wilson) joins the ride, as does a reporter named Jane (Cate Blanchett). Despite capable actors playing the two characters, the script (written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, which is an indie movie dream team if there ever was one) never gives them anything particularly remarkable to do, which is a recurring problem with the feature.
I'm sure you can tell it at this point, but I'll reaffirm it in a blunt fashion; The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou isn't a bad, or even mediocre film by any means. But it did feel lacking to me in several important regards, namely in how underdeveloped some members of the ensemble cast are. The majority of the film is spent with the crew of Zissou's ship, and some of them (like Willem Dafoe as an insecure fellow and a David Bowie crooning member of the crew) leave an impression, while many of the others don't leave much of an impression.
The casting is excellent, as it usually is in Wes Anderson films, with this roster of actors led by the one and only Bill Murray, a regular fixture of the director. He plays Zissou as the kind of cantankerous, but redeemable fellow Murray has played prominently in the 21st century in everything from Lost In Translation to Garfield: A Tale Of Two Kitties. Zissou feels a bit one-note in early sequences of the film, and him and Wilson father-son dynamic came off as similarly been-there-done-that to me, but some of his final scenes (especially when he and his crew go down to see a jaguar shark in a submarine) are played in the kind of understated manner that shows how excellent Murray is as a performer.
That jaguar shark, as well as the rest of the films aquatic life, is brought to life in clay-motion animation, a medium Anderson would utilize to phenomenal results in one of the 21st centuries best films Fantastic Mr. Fox just five years later. These clay-motion creations are directed by Henry Selick (director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline) and for some reason, they worked for me as a way to help reinforce the films more old-timey atmosphere. It's a nice touch in a film full of sweet visual choices; Zissou's ship is a wonderland of eye candy, each room is so intricately designed. Even if it stumbles on some notable fronts, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou at least is a champ when it comes to visual splendor.
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