The Life Acquatic

THE LIFE AQUATIC
WITH STEVE ZISSOU. 2004

Director: Wes Anderson

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Bill Murray is Steve Zissou, an alternate-world Jacques Cousteau treated satirically as some kind of burnt out egomaniacle no-talent, which could well describe the actual Jacques Cousteau who my dear departed dad & uncle (both had been navy divers) hugely deplored for selling rinky-dink diver-murdering equipment.

The preview for this film was a work of genius, it made it look like the film was going to be slightly intelligent & very funny. The film itself is ho-hum. In one of the special features Bill Murray makes a comment about the director being very convinced of his storytelling powers; that wasn't anywhere near the same as Bill Murray being convinced, though it was very politic to word it that way. In all the cast interviews they are not really praising the director; everyone liked working with Bill, but how they ended up in this crappy film they never discuss.

As storytelling this just stinks. For example, there are several vaguely tempting but nothing-special allusions to the dolphins who are sort of part of the crew, but these hints of a substory go nowhere at all, there is no pay-off. There's no pay-off for the appearance of the panther shark either; it finally appears, people go "Oo!" & that's it, film over.

A major character gets snuffed in the film in a manner that is not moving, meaningful, or dramatic, though it was distracting for the remaining of the film's run-time since until then the film seemed to be wholly about Steve Zissou's relationship to the prematurely offed character. After that major character was so pointlessly removed, the film never regained whatever slight interest it was occasionally close to achieving. The sudden death seems to have been tossed into this meandering dud only because the screenwriter/director (being such an awful storyteller) just couldn't think of anything actually interesting with which to complete any given character's story arc.

The animation for the unreal sea life is amusing & decorative but entirely peripheral rather than contributory. And there are a lot of fine actors at the edges of the film. Their presence made me wonder why they were willing to take such tiny & inferior roles; love of Bill Murray is the only explanation, as the script does not scream out at any time "this minor role would be great."

Bill Murray of course can't help but be funny even when standing still, but bad editing stomped all over his timing.

On the plus side, Kate Blanchette brings more to her character than was actually in the script. Owen Wilson who is usually a grating, annoying comic actor, plays this one rather seriously, & he's surprisingly good as the possible son hoping to get to know his possible father. For these two characters the emotions are often unexpectedly convincing, even if the alleged comedy is flat or absent.

The tale is jarring from scene to scene both from the mediocrity of an uneven script & from the editing choices. The whole helicopter sequence near the end seemed spliced in from a different film. Throughout, story arcs are begun & never finished, & the last twenty minutes completely run out of steam, thrashing about marking time. The best joke is buried in the ending credits where we are told about the "real" Steve Zissou; few viewers will even notice.

When the director stated that he spent fourteen years planning to do this film, I was flabberghasted; as well to boast that it took fourteen years to pry a tick off his pecker.

I did not bother with the second disc of still-more-extras as this thing already wasted too much of my time. Why is it so often the stinkeriest films that get the most extras tacked on?

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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