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Volume 7, Issue 2                                    University of Houston

Anderson creates an 'Aquatic' classic

Director utilizes past plots, talent for an underwater adventure 
as witty as the rest

By Dusti Rhodes 
The Daily Cougar

Love, loss and adventure meet on the open sea with a Wes Anderson twist in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson's latest piece that tells the story of Zissou (Bill Murray), an underwater documentary filmmaker. Zissou's career is quickly sinking as his hype and scientific credibility begin to lose steam with each new picture he releases, but after his longtime friend and partner, Esteban du Plantier (Seymour Cassel), is killed by a "jaguar shark," Zissou and his team set out to find the shark in order to get revenge for his friend's death.

Along the way Zissou encounters problems that Anderson's fans have come to know as staples of his films. Owen Wilson plays Ned Plimpton, a young pilot who claims to be Zissou's son. The relationship between the two brings up the quirky family feel of The Royal Tenenbaums. Another Anderson film is revisited as the "I saw her first" love battle from Rushmore is brought back via Plimpton and Zissou's fight to win the heart of the young reporter Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett).

Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

Bill Murray along, with other notable names, drives Houston filmmaker Wes Anderson's latest work, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The film is a look at the life of an underwater documentary filmmaker presented with Anderson's quirky storytelling and his latest experimentation with scenery.

Anderson brings back many of his staple actors for the film such as Murray, Wilson and Cassel, as well as the Tenenbaum's Angelica Huston, who plays Eleanor Zissou. Anderson always manages to attract other big names to his casts and The Life Aquatic continues this tradition as Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum add to the already star-studded cast lists.

Combined with familiar cast members and side plots, the dry yet witty humor that drives the film's dialogue and a killer soundtrack, The Life Aquatic would be hard to distinguish from other Anderson films if it weren't for the story line and the setting of the film - the magical world that lies beneath the ocean's surface. The wonders of the sea are made even more wonderful through the use of stop-motion animation that creates fanciful sea creatures that add to the film's quirky feel. 

The movie is set at sea upon The Belafonte, Zissou's research vessel whose kitchen contains more state-of-the-art equipment than his research labs. Audiences are given a tour of the ship thanks to the incredible sliced view created on a stage but modeled after the boat used in the film. The attention given to The Belafonte along with the imaginative underwater scenes make The Life Aquatic Anderson's most visually stunning film to date. Anderson in turn makes the ocean and The Belafonte characters as essential to the film as any member of Team Zissou. Anderson always manages to skillfully create characters out of his settings, such as the Rushmore Academy and Tenenbaum house.

The Life Aquatic would not be complete, however, without a soundtrack that proves just as interesting as the film itself, and once again, Anderson delivers. Mark Mothersbaugh created the electronic instrumentals that create much of the background music for the film and fuel its delightfully odd feel. However, it is the music performed by Zissou team member Pelé dos Santos (Seu Jorge) that will blow Anderson's other soundtracks out of the water. Almost every major cut in the movie begins with sound of Jorge acoustically performing David Bowie songs in Portuguese. Fans of Bowie might not recognize the songs at first, but after a few times they are sure to be delighted with the discovery of tunes like "Ziggy Stardust," "When I Live My Dream," "Starman" and many others.

The ending is a literally a little touchy-feely, but Anderson manages to pull it off without giving audience members a reason to roll their eyes, although he does fail to close a lot of doors with the conclusion. One could easily argue, though, that certain details were intentionally left open for audience members to make of them what they wish. 

The Life Aquatic is a great addition to Anderson's short but impressive filmography that seems to follow familiar dilemmas in different settings. Long-time fans of the filmmaker will find everything they love about his writing and directing as he once again proves he can create a story that is as interesting as it hilarious, even in uncharted waters.

The Life Aquatic

Rated: R for language, some drug use and partial nudity

Starring: Bill Murray; written and directed by Wes Anderson

Touchstone Pictures

Verdict: Anderson does it again - underwater.

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